Friday, 12 November 2010

'Alexa' by Andrea Newman

'Alexa: a novel of three people caught up in feelings they can't control' by Andrea Newman, Penguin, Middlesex, 1976. I have read this little novel just so many times - I really have lost count of the number of times! For me, it is a little gem. It sits on my shelf and when I am in a particular mood, and when I have a real need to regroup/rethink/take hold of life somehow in a new and different way etc, off it comes from the shelf again and I read it. Andrea Newman is a powerful writer, and a number of her books (including this one) were made into TV productions.

It is such a little book (just 157 pages) and yet it says so much; for me, it covers so many important topics; topics that are so very dear to my heart; issues that basically I have grappled with all my teenage and adult life in fact.
What do I mean by this? Well, to put it in a nutshell, it captures something about the real dilemma within myself, and which many other women must clearly suffer from. This is the dilemma between wanting security, a stable and secure relationship, a home etc. with wanting a risk-taking, adventurous, creative life etc.
The book centres around 3 characters: Alexa, Christine and Paul. Christine and Paul are married with 2 children. Paul has a secure job as a teacher; they have a nice home in the country, and in theory have 'domestic bliss'. Alexa, on the other hand, is a successful, creative novelist; living in London; having different relationships with men and a seemingly exciting life (although in reality, it often just involves her spending lots of time writing). Anyway, Alexa and Christine are long-standing friends; Alexa has chosen the creative, risk-taking path; whereas Christine has taken the security, earth-mother path.
Christine is feeling stale; she is also a pianoist, but never plays the piano these days. The children are just too demanding, and she gets too tired. Alexa comes to stay to see how she can help. They decide that Christine will go and stay in Alexa's flat in London for a few days, and live the high life, whilst Alexa stays in Christine's home and looks after her children.
But all goes 'pear-shaped' when Alexa and Paul have a brief affair. Alexa tells Paul that she only wants to go ahead if he promises that he will feel no guilt afterwards. Alexa is into free, no-strings attached, no guilt-attached love-making. Paul agrees; but he can't sustain it. He ends up telling Christine. Christine overdoses and tries to kill herself.
Luckily, Christine does not succeed, and the pages end with her and Alexa maintaining very infrequent communication through letters, and with Christine telling Alexa that she is pregnant again.
The characters of these two women portray the two sides of my personality that I am forever trying to juggle up, and that are sometimes in conflict. All very difficult; but then, life is difficult! So be it, we carry on and try to make it all work, somehow or other.

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