Eva Figes Paddy Kitchen - Essay

Paddy Kitchen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Moral ambiguity … is usually set within a precise social context: you know where you are physically and historically, however much the characters' ethical bearings may fluctuate. With Nelly's Version the ambiguity is total. Nelly herself does not know who she is, where she is, or why, and nor do we. She signs a hotel register with an apparently false name, discovers with surprise that her suitcase is stuffed with banknotes, and makes forays into the strange town which turns out to have unidentifiably familiar undertones. Eva Figes has long been involved with developing the relevance and potential of contemporary fiction, just as I have long been described by my closest friends as one of nature's philistines, so my appreciation of her work (which early on was extremely enthusiastic) has tended to deflate as she advances and I get more entrenched.

What I feel about her and several other exploratory writers is that the evidence of their journeys is so wilfully arbitrary. The information imparted in their books seems to have no central intuitive, passionate motivation. It is like those visual art exhibits that profess either to be evidence, or not to be evidence, of travels which the artist may, or may not, have taken according to whichever viewpoint the spectator chooses to adopt.

As far as I can tell, Nelly is a middle-aged, gone-to-seed woman, out of touch with society's concept of sanity…. What some regard as the straitjacket of psychological or narrative logic is virtually absent…. The book is, I believe, making a serious statement about the inconsequentiality of life. (p. 95)

Paddy Kitchen, "Knowing Where You Are," in The Listener, Vol. 98, No. 2518, July 21, 1977, pp. 94-5.∗