Observer Review: Don’t You Want Me By India Knight Essay, Research Paper
In search of Mr AnybodyDon’t You Want MeIndia KnightPenguin ?6.99, pp272Sex and the Single Girl may be a worn-out old trollop of a theme, but there’s mileage yet in Sex and the Single Mum – or so India Knight believes.Like Clara Hutt, the heroine of her hyped debut novel My Life on a Plate, Estelle de la Croix is blessed with a big house, nice clothes and a healthy appetite. She is also twice divorced, the wrong side of 35 and the mother of a golden-haired toddler named Honey, which means that although she’s no harried housewife, sex is decidedly off-menu.In addition to her ex-husbands and her ‘ambisexual’ French papa, Stella’s modishly extended family includes Frank, her ‘artist as pop star’ lodger, who would be perfect third husband material if only he weren’t such a slag and so very ginger. Each night, she dozes off to the ‘gur-runting’ lullaby of Frank and his latest conquest. And so, inspired by Frank’s example, Stella zips herself into an LBD and steps out in search of lust.Unusually for this pink-jacketed genre, Stella is a heroine hunting neither Mr Right nor Mr Maybe – any man will do, she tells herself, even a roaring, perma-tanned plastic surgeon. Sadly, though, the resulting rollercoaster of toe-curling ‘bed action’, over-age drugs and disco hits is punctuated less by howls of orgasmic triumph than the hungover ‘eurghs’ and ‘aarghs’ of shame.However greedily Stella may pump Frank for his definition of a ‘dirty ride’, casual sex makes her feel ‘grubby’ and ‘unmaternal’; worse still, she just cannot take it seriously. ‘Do men do this?’ she asks Frank over a bleary-eyed breakfast, ‘I mean, have hysterics the next morning?’Along with a fondness for phrases like ‘giving the horn’, the title of this novel is a purely period touch, since Stella herself is blessedly incapable of introspection. Instead, she casts a smugly scathing eye over ‘boho’ conventions like getting ‘Not Married’ and ‘fur-coat-and-no-knickers restaurants’ where the decor is marvellous, the food vile.Knight delights in sending up the kind of laissez-faire parenting favoured by the English middle classes: why, for example, do they persist with their ‘He’s just tired’ mantra, even as little Ichabod or Pollux or Castor throttles his playmate? Other targets, though, such as conceptual art (’modern arse’), are too obvious, and Stella’s schoolgirl sniggers at anything scatological or to do with the handicapped quickly undermine the narrative’s confessional charm.At heart, Don’t You Want Me is a paean to well-heeled domesticity, to a label-laden idyll of ‘red-nosed’ walks, log fires and rosemary-garnished roasts lifted straight from the lifestyle pages of a weekend supplement.This is a pity, since beneath the froth bob some altogether more interesting, unexplored questions, centring on the different ways in which men and women relate to sex, and society’s nonsensical image of mothers as sexless beings. ‘Sexual frustration,’ Stella wryly observes, ‘is a terrible thing.’ But it’s a whole lot more entertaining than sexual satisfaction.