Maybe the Bitchiest Novel Ever – “After Claude” by Iris Owens

“After Claude” by Iris Owens (1973) – 206 pages

“I left Claude, the French rat.”  That is the first sentence of “After Claude” spoken by the main character Harriet.  A good description of Harriet would be that she is a cross between Joan Rivers with her sharpest, nastiest tongue and the comedienne Sarah Silverman.  I will let Harriet describe her own story.

    “I am essentially a light-hearted person who tries to see the humor in this freak show called life.”

It’s almost a miracle to me that New York Review Books (NYBR) has now re-published “After Claude”.  The novel caused a stir when it was published in 1973 and got a lot of very positive reviews, but the book and its author, Iris Owens, have long since been nearly completely forgotten.

Iris Owens had an interesting background.  After graduating from Barnard, she went to Paris with her heroin-addict boyfriend and became a writer of erotica for Olympia Press.  Using the pen name Harriet Daimler, she specialized in rape fantasies.  The pornography she wrote for Olympia Press is still available at Amazon with such titles as “Darling”,  “Innocence”,  and “The Woman Thing”.  She had such a brutal caustic wit, she was the only writer that Olympia Press, specialists in this kind of material, told to “tone it down”.

Many novels such as “Portnoy’s Complaint” or “Confederacy of Dunces” were written in the 1960s and 1970s with anti-heroes.  Finally we have found the long missing anti-heroine; Harriet in “After Claude” is someone who can slouch right up next to those male anti-heroes.

“After Claude” is a comic masterpiece, but it is not for everyone.  Here are a series of disclaimers.

Do not read “After Claude”, if you can’t stand to have the joys of female friendship disparaged.

    “If there’s one thing on this earth that irritates me, it’s when a dumpy, frigid, former nymphomaniac assumes that my tongue is hanging out, thirsting for marital bliss.”

Do not read “After Claude”, if you find it offensive to hear Jesus called “a Jewish fag”.

Do not read “After Claude”, if you don’t want hard-working flight attendants and nurses to be degraded.

    “Tell me, do you believe that stewardesses and nurses are pathologically promiscuous as a result of their occupations constantly confronting them with death?”

Do not read “After Claude”, if the following revolts your sense of cleanliness.

    “A bum in Dr. Kildare’s blood-smeared ducks shuffled over and mechanically wiped the table with a cloth that looked as if it had been dipped in extract of smallpox infection.”

Do not read “After Claude”, if you don’t want to read about “that brain-dead segment of the population called women”.

I think everyone who wasn’t offended by the above will adore this book.   The woman who wrote the introduction to “After Claude”, writer Emily Prager, was no longer on speaking terms with Iris Owens when Owens died in 2008.  Somehow that seems appropriate for “After Claude”.

To read a more comprehensive and insightful review of this book, please read the BookForum review by Gerald Howard.  BookForum is one of only two book reviews I still get in the mail.

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