Over the years I’ve come to understand that telling someone’s story- telling it, I mean, with a purity of intention, in an attempt to get at that person’s real desires and sufferings- is at one and the same time an act of devotion and an expression of sadism. You are the one moving the bodies around, putting words in their mouths, making them do what you need them to do. You insist, they submit.
The Virgins, Pamela Erens
There’s a puff from the Independent on the cover of Pamela Erens’ The Virgins which compares it to Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides and on a fairly superficial level I suppose there are similarities, both are novels about teenage angst and lust set during the seventies narrated by men reflecting on the girls they loved in their youth, but while The Virgin Suicides is a Greek chorus of relatively benign voices united to honour the memory of the girls they adored, it quickly becomes clear that Erens’ novel is a much darker tale, a story of obsession which is closer to a confession than anything else.
Set in an elite private boarding school, it examines a cohort of teenagers slowly beginning to show the cracks of the incredible internal and external pressures they are facing. At the heart of this group are young lovers Aviva and Seung, an improbable couple whose tale, our narrator soon makes clear, will not be a happy one.
Erens’ writing captures the spirit and the memory of what it is to be a teenager, and while her fresh prose will resonate with anyone who remembers their first serious teenage romance, Erens’ prose serves as a stark reminder of how the destructive flame of obsession can consume and warp anyone who stands close enough to it.