Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Love All - Molly Parkin

I was aware of Molly Parkin’s appearances on game shows and in documentaries, where she’d always cut a larger-than-life figure; a true bohemian, sporting feathered gowns and turbans and elaborate eye make-up. She was someone fabulous from an earlier era who was still around and painting outrageously garish canvases in her eighties: still out there, still making a splash. I was half-aware that, back in the day, she had published a string of racy novels. Now, at last, I’ve read her first one, from 1974, ‘Love All’ and I’ve discovered that it’s a delightful, outré number… a kind of cross between Abfab and Collette.
            Our heroine is Myopia: a divorcee and mother in a fancy Hampstead home in the early 1970s. She’s a woman who feels the need to please everyone, and so falls instantly for the blandishments and cajolings of all the men whose orbit she falls into. What a terrible bunch she knocks about with! They’re all alcoholics or immensely rich, impotent fatties, or emotionally-stunted MPs or her own batshit crazy father…! Your heart can’t help going out a little to the poor woman and the way she lurches drunkenly through her days, swigging brandy, whisky and red wine,  stumbling from one afternoon encounter to the next…
            In many ways it’s deliciously decadent, and you can’t help seeing Myopia as more liberated and in-control than she claims to be. She dances rings around these fellas, and she’s having a splendid time – especially when she waltzes off to Paris for the weekend with her new gay pal, to star in a photo shoot for his ex’s new collection of designer frocks.
            There’s something intrinsically silly about all the wish-fulfilment and fantasy and the coincidences at play in this novel. Everyone who turns up is either an ex-lesbian lover or a red hot brand new paramour who can’t wait to introduce her to a sexual practice she hasn’t tried out before. But the contrivances and the daftness don’t really matter. We’re in a fantasy world whizzed up from the relics of 1974: from Biba and David Hockney’s ghostly portraits of Celia; of David Bowie dressed as a pirate in red dungarees during his Diamond Dogs period…
 This is the erotic bildungsroman that the era of glam rock thoroughly deserves, and I was glad to encounter it all these years later. Myopia really is a heroine of her time – she’s the working class girl from the seaside café suddenly pitched into this very sophisticated world of fashionistas and decadent drifters. Hers is a time when this kind of social mobility was taken for granted, and anyone, from any background, might wander into the high-life like Myopia does…
Molly Parkin’s sense of humour lifts this book up, I think. There are lots of novels about dreary narcissists having the time of their lives. This never gets dull and it never feels earnest. It’s someone writing with great panache, and with a tongue firmly in their cheek.            ‘We lay on the bed, Jean and me, naked, covered in boys. There must have been seven of them, three on her, three on me, and Sergio, that was his name I remember, he was odd man out. Scrabbling around for any bit of bare flash he could find…’

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