Monday, 18 April 2011

Asylum Piece - Anna Kavan

Anna Kavan – a character’s name from one of her earlier works, adopted by the author who went on to produce some astonishing work that is all too sadly neglected these days, despite the unflagging championship by her publisher. This was the first of her ‘new’ work, a series of interlinked vignettes that explore her recent experiences of breakdown and confinement in an asylum.

On the surface this does not sound like it makes for a cheerful work. And on the surface, it doesn’t. But this is not a dark work either. It is honest, at times chilling, often surreal, and offers the reader a glimpse into a troubled mind. Yet the overall picture is not one of derangement. Rather there is an underlying bewilderment. Why is this happening to me? And it manages this without once falling into self-pity.

This is down to the style. It is the simplicity that speaks of complexity, the straightforwardness that tells of a hideous maze just negotiated, the acuteness of observation that picks out the one slight detail which is most indicative of the inner state. It is the use of imagery and symbolism with such a light touch, you notice only the echoes and not the original call.

In some regards, the analysis of her own problems is extremely clinical. She reports events rather than trying to reproduce emotion. Yet this makes the work all the more effective, because it adds a layer of authenticity that histrionics would obscure: the sense of isolation, of looking in on one’s self, of trying to make sense of events when it is the world that seems deranged, of remaining unobtrusive in a Kafka-esque world where standing up gets one noticed by people one would rather not attract.

And the overall effect is intensely human and vibrant, all too aware of the prisons we make for ourselves as well as those made by others – physical, intellectual, emotional, metaphorical, and symbolic.