Thursday, 10 March 2016

"The Natasha's" by Yelena Moskovitch

Serpent's Tail are a publisher who prides themselves on publishing books that are slightly different to the run-of-the-mill. They positively encourage authors whose work either breaks the accepted rules, defying the mundane principles of being strictly commercial and yet, conversely, are accessible. Will Self describes them thus....

"‘Serpent’s Tail is a consistently brave, exciting and almost deliriously diverse publisher"

Yelena Moskovich was born in 1984 in the Ukraine then emigrated to the US with her family in 1991. She graduated from Emerson College with a degree in playwriting before moving to Paris to enable her to study at the Lecoq School of Physical Theatre. She has a master degree in Art, Philosophy, and Aesthetics. Much of her work has been produced and performed in North America, France, and Sweeden. She has made Paris her home and it is from there she wrote 'The Natasha's.'

This is a novel that challenges you. The opening chapter introduces you to 'The Natasha's' - a gang of them. It has the act of disturbing you when encountering a host of girls all with the same name. It is a trick of the tale. Delicate yet demanding. Red varnished nails. Redheaded woman. Girls scattered like throw cushions. You read on as you have to. There is a need to discover why all the females have the same forename. Is it coincidence? Surely not? Are they all whores?

There is a feeling of being played with. The author makes you aware she is being playful with your expectations whilst messing with the fabric of how our world has its constraints, its restrictions, its customs. Is this a para-reality?

A surrealist veil hangs over the narrative like net curtaining at an open window. As the breeze ruffles the fabric so slices of reality, like sun slipping over the ledge, slip into the tale. The prose is close to poetry at times, Dylanesque, a David Lynch film with unforgettable characters scratching their fictional individuality onto your mind. I am reminded of 'Desolation row,' of 'Mulholland Drive,'  it has that sort of imagery. Then, as the first couple of chapters turn their pages each one giving off silvered words that dislocate the readers reality so then the surrealism turns solid. The story presents the central protagonists illustrating them perfectly, fully formed, idiosyncratic, essential. You are captured, captivated. You read on.

We are introduced to Cesar, then Beatrice. As fallible, flawed and fatally linked as imaginable. Their tragic lives intertwine. The tail twists like a hooked blade in an open wound.

Cesar, homosexual, Mexican, leaves his homeland having received nothing but abuse from his brothers all of whom secretly despise gays. He moves to France where he learns to act. His ability is not great but he hangs on undertaking jobs that help pay his way. An opportunity arises for him to land a big part in a TV series. It's a good role. He is set to play a serial killer. Then he encounters, one grim evening, Rosa, a girl he had left behind in Mexico. The confrontation is magnetic but frayed. The edges of their conversation collide with reality. Her face is badly damaged. The picture of her he remembers doesn't fit that of the one in front of him. They talk. She tells him of her marriage, the abuse she suffered and ultimately how she killed her husband. The pair of them, Cesar and Rosa walk on. Then Rosa is no longer Rosa, she is Violetta. There are holes in her head. A dead woman walking or a nightmare dream? Then Rosa walks away telling Cesar she will E-mail him.

The disengaged manner in which the story is related has the hairs on the back of your neck upended. It is a tale told through a misshapen mirror. It grips your imagination as your imagination turns cartwheels.

Beatrice was a flat chested, unlovely girl until puberty struck. Boys who had ignored her no longer could. Her figure was to die for, her breasts, surely the perfect pair ever created? turned both male and female heads. Daddy called her Monroe. Boys lusted after her mouth imagining what those lips could do. One day Beatrice sang. It was a Jazz voice, a voice that recalled the greats, Ella, and Billie, Lena, and Etta. Daddy loved her voice. His Miss Monroe. The boys in the school corridor loved Bea. Not so much loved as lusted after. They take hold of her, one of them pushing a 100 Franc note into her mouth as the other fondle her breasts as they all sing the French National anthem.

That was in the past. An event long gone but never forgotten. In the now Beatrice steps into a shop to purchase a dress. The woman behind the counter is Polina. She tells Beatrice whilst she tries on a black dress, how beautiful she is, what a fantastic figure she has and what incredible breasts. Then she informs her that 'There are people who leave their bodies and their bodies go on living without them. These people are named Natasha.'

It is a seductive book. It seduces the mind with its alien fractures. It captures in plain sight a rich diversity of characters each of whom is made of flesh with all insecurities being human brings. She, the author, mixes her illusions with realities. You have to decide which is which. There is an immense tension threaded through the book crafted by the way in which she presents her characters with personal questions of sexuality. The perversity of Cesar and Beatrice as they attempt to live their lives  is a collision of phobias. 

We meet Manny, another Latino, another psycho but is he any more real than Beatrice's Polina? Probably not. It is a high fix of a novel, an adrenaline rush. I am intoxicated" by it. It is "The Prisoner'" it is "Twin Peaks." It is also the blast of the Violent Femmes "Blister in the Sun."

It dares to be different. I love it.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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