Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Review: Tony and Susan by Austin Wright

Originally published in 1993, Tony and Susan was a minor hit in the United States. Somehow, in about 2011, a secondhand hardcover copy made its way to my bookshelf (a minor miracle, considering that to the best of my knowledge it was never in print in Australia,) where it stayed ... for the next six years. Then a film titled Nocturnal Animals was released and I couldn't help but notice some similarities ... which is fitting, considering that Nocturnal Animals was based on Tony and Susan (basically, it's a more modern version of the book, with a bit more nudity thrown in, and a somewhat altered backstory for Susan.)

The novel opens with Susan, a middle-aged wife and a mother of three. The year is 1990. Out of the blue she is contacted by Edward, a man to whom she was married briefly in the 1960s. The marriage ended in divorce as Susan could not understand Edward's desire to be a writer, and she eventually divorced him to be with Arnold, a heart surgeon who is, well, a bit of a philanderer. (Susan tolerates his affairs for the hope of a bit of security.) Anyway, Edward has finally finished his first novel and has sent the manuscript, titled Nocturnal Animals, for Susan to read. Along with Susan, we read the manuscript, thus creating the effect of a novel within a novel. Seemingly the two stories--Susan brooding over her life and choices, and a thriller about a mathematics professor named Tony who watches helplessly as his wife and daughter are abducted, raped and murdered by thugs--have nothing to do to each other ... or do they?

The concept of this one is clever. However, the execution lacked something The writing is dry, dull and full of cynical, middle aged perversity. I do not think that the author had much idea of female sexuality, and it certainly was neither enjoyable, nor interesting to read about sex written in such a cut and dry fashion. In all honesty, I enjoyed reading Tony's story more than Susan's, but that seems to defy the point of the story.

In many ways, I felt that the story of Tony exposed Susan's vulnerabilities to herself. Without giving too much away, the ending felt as though revenge--not justice--had been served. 

This is a book best read when you're looking for something a bit different and are willing to overlook a number of shortcomings.