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the Complete Review
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Brigid Brophy

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To purchase Flesh

Title: Flesh
Author: Brigid Brophy
Genre: Novel
Written: 1962
Length: 124 pages
Availability: Flesh - US
. Flesh - UK
. Flesh - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well-written novella, nicely told

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Statesman . 2/11/1962 Robert Taubman
The NY Rev. of Books . 26/9/1963 Julian Moynahan
The NY Times Book Rev. F 2/6/1963 Nicholas Monsarrat
TLS A 9/11/1962 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(E)xhibits a serious imbalance of structure. Short books are very hard to write (.....) Their architecture is of continuous and paramount importance; and in this, Miss Brophy is not successful. (...) One can only say, in faint praise, that Flesh reads like a working notebook for a much longer novel." - Nicholas Monsarrat, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Flesh is an exceptionally taut and funny novel (.....) Her great skill as a writer, however, is that she never lets her background submerge her characters or override her theme. This is a powerful piece of sophistication." - Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Flesh is a small novella, telling the story of Marcus and Nancy. They meet when they are in their late 20s, and get married. They are a somewhat unlikely couple, the first sentence of the novel revealing: "Marcus knew that people must wonder what Nancy saw in him." But see something she does, and they get along and seem happy enough together.
       Marcus isn't a sociable or socially adept fellow, a virgin still until he marries Nancy. He has no real job, and isn't quite sure what to do with his life. His family is able to support him, but he is looking for something to fill his time. He knows about the arts, but isn't skillful or creative enough to be an artist himself.
       Nancy also has done nothing truly remarkable, though she has dabbled in many things -- a year of this, a semester of that. And she has at least one skill: "Nancy did have a talent", readers are told. "It was for sexual intercourse." This may have sounded more shocking (or plausible) when the book was first published, in 1962. Now it just sounds ... odd. With her four previous lovers (count 'em: four !) she is far more experienced than Marcus, and she is quickly able to draw the best out of him, but the sex isn't front and centre for most of the novel.
       Most significant, perhaps, is the fact that both Nancy and Marcus are Jewish. There's quite a bit about that. They're not practicing Jews, but they can't quite get around the fact that that is what they are, and there are quite a few self-denigrating remarks to that effect. Perhaps English upper middle-class Jews of that era did talk like that (or, for all we know, still do), but most of it is quite distracting and seems a bit forced. Not that there isn't some point to it, but even Brophy seems uncomfortable, at times, in making these points.
       Marcus does get a job, helping a certain Polydore fix up antiques and the like. It involves a lot of fakery and show, and Marcus is quite good at that. He works in the shop, and sometimes at home, slowly getting pudgy and self-satisfied. He used to admire Rubens-women, and by the end has turned into one.
       Nancy doesn't find her niche as readily. Her one talent is put to some use, but really, how far can that get her ? Eventually they decide -- for want of anything else, pretty much -- to have a child. It too comes effortlessly, but Nancy seems like she might prefer some effort along the way.
       There are other characters, too. Parents, who remain largely background figures. Marcus' sister, divorced and perhaps a lesbian. Au pairs come and go, with Marcus indulging himself.
       Flesh is a novel with little ambition. Once the pair is married off they're almost happy enough. Their jobs pretty much suffice, and they fail to move on to anything better. And they enjoy each other's fleshy bodies, even as Marcus' gets ever more massy, despite vague efforts at diets and the like.
       Brophy has written a fine book here. The easy-going style, the easy details -- Marcus picking up smoking, their domiciles, the things they say or don't because of the image they want to preserve in front of others -- it's all expertly served. Marcus' transformation, his slow bloating into this absurd character at the end, is fully convincing. Flesh is a small tale, but Brophy captures and relates a great deal here, a convincing portrait as filled-out as a Rubens. Except for the odd Jewish preoccupations a most enjoyable read.

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Brigid Brophy: Other books by Brigid Brophy under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Brigid Brophy (1929-1995) wrote numerous acclaimed novels and works of non-fiction, and was instrumental in establishing the Public Lending Right.

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