Book Review

Hasard Objectif by Joanna Walsh

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I’ve never read any Joanna Walsh before. She’s a gap in my reading.

I suppose, really, that the main reason for this was that kinda fear you get – well, people like me get – when there is the potential for trying something you expect to really like, but then might hate it. Maybe this is a particularly lower middle class thing, putting off a potential pleasure just in case it turns out to not be a pleasure at all. I need not have worried, with this one, I need not have worried at all. Hasard Objectif is a short story, another one of the Goldsmiths Shorts (whose presentation I have criticised before but whose content I have been v v impressed by). It is set in Paris and is a first person piece about a woman sat in a cafe, who is thinking about the one-night-stand she had the night before, who is thinking about a distant, second person addressee with whom she is in unrequited love, who is thinking about the Enlightenment writers Denis Diderot and Sophie Volland, the latter who was a noted “woman of letters” of whose work, alas, nothing has survived.

This is engaging, emotive, prose, all about unregretted sex and female erasure and unrequited love and the pursuit of knowledge and an engagement with the past and a personal future.

The following line stuck with me. It is about the lover from the night before:

There is nothing wrong with his fucking, the man who knows things. Still, it is not his fucking I would like to grow used to. […] Nevertheless if pushed I think I could base my life around him.

This is funny, is witty, and this is the tone throughout. Bouncing between engagement with rather bleak pronouncements about the long term future of a moderately fulfilling life, deep in the knowledge of a personally fulfilling potential far away, but unreciprocated… Walsh’s language is direct and personal, is clever and powerful. There are occasional passages in French, all offered with a footnote translation, and part of the narrative of the text is the narrator’s superior ability at French to the distant addressee. There is an off hand reference to the narrator’s bisexuality and a confused sense of jealousy towards “the actress” who has also fucked the man she is in love with.

This is what it is like, to sit in a cafe in a place that is not yours – no matter what claims you may be able to make upon it (i.e. language) – and reflect on things you want and how they connect with things that you have, and also things you can get.

I have spent a lot of my life unhappy, not seeking to try and get the things I want due to an innate sense that life has to be shit. This lower middle class idea, again, that “happiness is for other people”, contentment is for other people. But that’s all over. I know the things that I want and how they approach the axis of what I am able to achieve, and I am chasing them, grabbing them, taking them. I have a lover I want: I’m not going to lose her through a fear of losing her. People read and publish my writing, regularly, now: I’m not going to lose that by stopping writing. I am a long way from anywhere I could consider home, but I have my books and my notebooks and my dog and an internet connection putting me in touch with all the people I care about and and and and and-

There is beautiful prose in the world. This is the first piece of Joanna Walsh’s writing that I have read. The only reason why I haven’t tried to read one of her longer pieces before is that genuine fear that I wouldn’t like it. Her work, sounds like the kinda thing I’d love, and that often makes me anxious. I’ve been burned by that too many times before, especially when it comes to prose. Because I have read so much prose, maybe I’ve taken more risks, riskier risks, and gotten through much more shit prose than I have shit poetry. Perhaps this is because I know my tastes better re: poetry just because I only started paying serious attention to it once I had, properly, learned how to read?

Who knows what I mean by that.

It’s late, I’m in Spain, I’ve had some cava and I need to take my little dog for a peepee before I get into bed and chillax with some #SacredGames.

But I keep, in my head, coming back to that phrase, “it is not his fucking I would like to grow used to”.

I’ve been writing a lot, recently, about the difference between love poems and sex poems, I think in part because my lover is not with me in Spain and, because I’m a poet now and it’s what poets do, I’m writing about her.

I’d never really got it before, that difference between sex and love, and it’s only when you understand that difference that it is possible to understand the power that comes from when these emotions overlap. Becoming used to (rather than bored by) someone’s fucking can be one of the most beautiful and romantic things a person can do… to become unsurprised by sex can be incredibly sexy (I project): as an idea, as an idea, this is beautifully romantic. Sex as something that transcends blunt physicality whilst losing none of its power: fucking as something that is grown used toin a good way, is very different from fucking that is grown used in the way one would ordinarily think of that phrase. It’s easy to become bored by a lover, it’s hard to pretend to enjoy sex with someone when your feelings are not once they once were… But to become used to fucking someone, that you still want to fuck and only want to fuck, that’s the kinda love we’re all aiming for, right? Maybe that’s a fantasy love, maybe that’s a fantasy fuck. Who knows, but here, in Hasard Objectif, that idea is beautifully expressed and evocatively realised.

Highly recommended, as were all four of these Goldsmiths Shorts. Buy ’em in bulk here.

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