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The Sex Life Of My Aunt - Mavis Cheek

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Author: Mavis Cheek / Genre: Fiction

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      22.07.2003 16:17
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      Waterstone’s offer ‘3 for 2’ has to answer for some (third) books the customer wouldn’t have thought of buying otherwise. If we wanted two books, we could buy two books, if we don’t want three, why do we take three? It’s the bargain mentality we all suffer from, that’s what it is. Why ever did I take ‘The Sex Life Of My Aunt’ by Mavis Cheek with me? I’m not ashamed of admitting that I read escapist literature occasionally, one can’t always be serious, can one? I thought this novel would be funny and I like funny. Funny it is not, at least not for me, what it is IMHO I’m going to tell you here. I’m very proud of the title! ‘Chick Lit’ you know already, and you‘ve just learnt ‘Hen Pen’ from me. ‘lit’ = ‘literature’, ‘pen’ = ‘penmanship’ (the art of writing), you see? Why have I felt the need to coin a new term? Well, the main character is a fifty-something and I felt that to call her a chick would stretch the term a bit. But apart from the age thing, the story falls into the category: a woman and her problematic relationship with two men, husband and lover, and the question which one to choose for her remaining years. Doesn’t sound very original, does it? What distinguishes this novel from the zillions of ‘boy meets girl’ stories is the age thing, at least I’ve never read this kind of literature with a ‘heroine’ in her early fifties! She’s married to a man in his mid-fifties against whom nothing negative can be said, who only lacks the ‘je ne sais quoi‘, the ‘I don’t know what’, the certain something, the wild spark all women yearn for (according to the narrator) who starts a love affair with a man about ten years younger who happens to have *it*. The novel is told in the first perso
      n perspective thus trying to make us see things through the eyes of the main character and sympathise with her. Dilys is a woman from a poor background who has married ‘up’, her husband is a lawyer from a well-to-do family, very British this, German literature doesn’t wallow in the problematic nature of class, what with all the Germans who were driven out of their homeland after World War II the German society has become very mixed, not that we don’t have different classes, we do, but class isn’t a topic over here. The man she has her ‘amour fou’ (crazy love) [I feel French today!] with is very much like her husband, i.e., good-looking, well-behaved, intelligent, educated, of the same political conviction (both could strangle Margaret Thatcher with their bare hands), working in a similar field, why, they even met in the past and shook hands. Of course, by creating similar characters the author emphasises the difficulty to choose, but this is a ‘shot in the oven’ as the Germans say (I seem to remember that English speaking people shoot themselves in their feet), the only result is boredom. Page after page we read of the merits both men have, yes, also the cuckold has his merits, wifey feels repulsion when she’s together with him, why then does she stay? Well, security and luxury are not to be detested, aren’t they, especially when the alternative is a bedsitter and a man between jobs. Anyways, after a while it doesn’t seem to matter who is going to make it. I had a reverse Agatha Christie feeling, she describes all her characters as equally suspicious, each could have done the deed, and in the end the reader only thinks, “Ah, it’s this one”, but isn’t thrilled, because if it were someone else, it would be just as well. Mavis Cheek confesses in an interview with The Observer that she scarcely plots at all. It sounds as if this is something to b
      e proud of. Oh, if only she had thought of a convincing plot, without one the story babbles on and could be shorter or longer, it wouldn’t make a difference. I must confess that I looked at the last pages only to be relieved from the constant ‘on the one hand/on the other hand’ and I felt as I’ve always done with Old Aggie, I would have been equally content if the woman had chosen the other one. Where, you must ask, is there an aunt in all this, the aunt who’s given the book its title? Dilys has rediscovered a seemingly dead aunt of hers who she ‘has’ to look after to have an excuse to leave the house and see her lover. When a funeral is due and Auntie and Hubby are to meet she finds her aunt with the help of a private eye (she hasn’t heard about her whereabouts for yonks) and informs her that she’s used her as a cover and begs her to play along with her. We’ve arrived at page 185 (from 282) and are suddenly in a completely different story. Auntie agrees to lie for Dilys and tells her about her own lies, yes, she had a sex life to write home about, but the chapter falls out of the flow of the novel, it isn’t integrated. The end of the novel is something different again, we learn about Dilys’ attempt to get to terms with her sister who’s hated her as long as she can remember. The above mentioned interview harps on the similarity of the CV of the real Mavis Cheek and the fictional character Dilys the reason being that Cheek wanted to write an autobiography but found it so full of ‘mordancy and self-pity’ that she turned it into a novel. What reason is this? The outcome is a book which is neither fish nor fowl. It’s putdownable IMHO. Who am I to influence your judgement? Read the critiques on amazon and you’ll see that it’s possible to describe this book as ‘Totally outstanding’, the writer of this praise
      recommends it to ‘Anybody who has found themselves in the less than ideal situation of trying to juggle a wonderful husband and a wonderful lover‘ and if you‘re in this situation, then you 'will feel a bond with the heroine of this book'. Do I have to cheat on my husband to be able to appreciate 'The Sex Life Of My Aunt'?

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