‘Afternoon of a Faun’ by James Lasdun – An Era of “Errant Masculinity”

 

‘Afternoon of a Faun’ by James Lasdun   (2019) – 164 pages

Here is a novel with a story ripped from today’s headlines, and I actually liked it.

A woman accuses a man of raping her while they slept together in the 1970s, and she is going to get her story published in a magazine. By this time, both man and woman are in their sixties. The man realizes that soon his life may be ruined for all intents and purposes by “the ritual of public denunciation”.

Yes, this story focuses on the assault and harassment scandals that seem to be breaking every week in the news. It is also a firsthand account of the sexual mores of the 1970s.

The gist of it was that men were more overtly sexist then; more condescending, imperious, entitled, aggressive and preeningly lustful.”

It was an era of “errant masculinity”. All kinds of behavior we question now were considered perfectly acceptable in those days. One-night stands , the sexual revolution, the birth control pill, “The Joy of Sex”.

If you think James Lasdun vehemently takes either the man’s side or the woman’s side, you do not know James Lasdun. The narrator of ‘Afternoon of a Faun’ sees himself as “an appraiser of the truth” who is only interested in finding out what actually happened. He meets with the woman who is an old family friend of his deceased mother who was a confidant to her.

There was no such thing as rape in those days, once you’d gotten in bed with a man. I didn’t even think of it as rape myself, at the time. The word didn’t enter my head.”

The narrator decides she is telling the truth. The narrator is also a friend of the man accused.

On one occasion he said he was surprised I hadn’t already written a book about a predicament exactly like his. I’d explained the difficulty: that in a made-up story you’d have to clarify in your mind who was lying, the man or the woman, and that this would inevitably read as a larger statement about the relative truthfulness of men and women in general, which would in turn reduce the story to polemic or propaganda.”

I have read all of the novels and stories James Lasdun has written including his first wonderful collection of stories, ‘Delirium Eclipse’. Lasdun also writes poetry, some of which I have read. I have found all of his work reliably well-written and fascinating, and ‘Afternoon of the Faun’ is no exception.

 

Grade:    A

 

 

6 responses to this post.

  1. Have you read his non-fiction account of being stalked by one of his pupils?

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    • Hi Kim,
      No, I missed that one. I just do not pay much attention to non-fiction. I expect it, being written by Lasdun, would be interesting.

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      • It was very controversial at the time… I read it and came away from the book not liking him very much. It sounds callous, but I think he enjoyed the drama.

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  2. Sounds good, and very contemporary, as you say:)

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