Here be spoilers...
It took me three goes to really get into this book. Initially, I found it hard to get into the swing of the elaborate, poetic rhythm of the prose. It is so full of description and metaphor that it almost felt too flowery. I was immediately scared that I wasn't going to be able to follow it, but after a few false starts, I finally started to get it.
But I couldn't shake the idea that maybe it was all a kind of written decoration, without any real substance behind it. There was nothing forced about it, but it just felt like there was just too much, like Nin was overcompensating for something.
Anaïs Nin - a complicated woman, if ever there was one.
And then I worked it out. The overuse of metaphorical language was a metaphor in itself, representing the excessive tales and lies and layers Sabina had built up around herself in order to create the life/lives she was living. She was a person, but one that was built mostly on fluff.
You might be able to tell that I had little sympathy for our dear protagonist. She is a woman who seemed removed from everyone she touched, unconsciously sucking them dry to fill her emptiness.
And you know what? I have a real problem with that. She treated men as experiences rather than people, created entirely for her own gratification. I mean, fuck, what a bitch.
Don't get me wrong, I get the whole "it was the fifties and she was a woman and it was LIBERATING and FREEDOM and FEMINISM and stuff" idea. But that the biggest problem I have with Sabina - she's not liberating herself or anyone else. She's leaving a trail of manipulation and falsehood in her wake, not giving a shit about those she discards in her sexual gallivanting. There's nothing inspiring or exciting about that. That is just being selfish and short-sighted.
There are points right through the book where Sabina realises that she's been pretty damn horrid, but rather than trying to make amends with herself, she just digs her hole deeper and ruins any feminist gains she might have made by falling into this guilty mess, then moving onto the next fling. Sure, she's human and it's the fifties and she needs to be free, but I kept getting frustrated with her refusal to think about the consequences of her affairs. "Dammit, woman! Stop hurting all these people! It's not making you any better!" I wanted to scream at her.
Despite being infuriated by her, I was curious as to how it would all resolve itself at the end.
BIG SPOILER: It doesn't.
I thought this book would be a celebration of womanhood and sexuality, but it's not. If anything, it's a warning about the contradiction of a beautiful sadness and the pain we leave behind us as we chase some kind of feeling. (Any kind of feeling - oh god, somebody hold me.) It's a reminder of our female failings, a reminder that perhaps we can't win, even if we shrug off the mantles of mother and wife for a "free" existence. We are doomed to a life of emptiness unless we find a semblance of sanity in a single stable love. (I can feel my polyamorous friends seething at this.)
This book feels like it should have left me with some kind of warm truth, but to be honest, it's really only reinforced the trap of the Unloved. I can only walk away from it with a heightened sense of pessimism about human beings and their capabilities to hurt and manipulate each other for gains that are really only made of shadows.
I think I should go now. There are too many things to ponder, and sleep needs to be had.
Hopefully you followed that a bit better than I did.
PS. Yes, it is a good book and you should read it. It is a title that will certainly make you feel all the things.
* N.B. I am slightly confused as to what the name of the protagonist of this book was actually called, and it appears I'm not the only one. Actually, even the book itself was confused, calling her "Sabina" all the way through the text, but calling her "Sabrina" in the blurb on the back. Blogs and Wikipedia all flip between one and the other, but for the sake of this blog, I'll be calling her "Sabina", because that was what was written on the pages I read.