NABOKV-L post 0006125, Thu, 16 Aug 2001 09:10:08 -0700

The Sunday Times -- Book Review (fwd)
From: Sandy P. Klein <>

Here is an interesting review I thought the Nabokov list might enjoy.
August 12 2001 BOOKS

Beauty is one quality shared by the four female deities by whom Mehta is
in turn obsessed. Cruelty is the other

A literary life

A Personal History of Desire and Disappointment
by Ved Mehta
Granta £14.99 pp341




It is a well-known fact that the writer Ved Mehta is blind. The fact
acquired particular significance because of Mehta's habit of writing,
with absolute plausibility, as if he were a sighted person. Readers of
Fly and the Fly- Bottle, a series of interviews with intellectual figures
living in Britain in the 1960s, may remember the oddity of this aspect of
his work. How was it that he could say that he was instantly drawn to
Iris Murdoch by her St Joan-like appearance, "a celestial expression cast
in the rough features of a peasant, and straight blond hair unevenly
clipped"? The description was exact, but Mehta himself could not have
known it. Why, the reader might have wondered, did Mehta so badly need to
pretend that he saw?

The puzzle, partly answered in the autobiographical works Mehta has been
writing over the past 30 years, is directly addressed in this
excoriatingly truthful and heartbreaking account of the pursuit, and
loss, of love. In the opening pages Mehta alerts us to the fact that he
was nearly four years old, an energetic, daring little boy, when he lost
his sight. Already active, he saw no reason to restrict himself. Defying
the insistence by his mother that some dreadful fate was at work and that
a cure must be found, Mehta simply behaved as though he still had his
sight. He chased runaway kites over rooftops, bicycled with his siblings
and took up the offer of schooling in America, where there was a less
prejudiced attitude towards the blind. Pursuing dates in his teens, he
learnt to drive a car and drove a new girlfriend, under her
understandably hysterical direction, along a Californian highway.

That bizarre excursion was the last time that Mehta allowed blindness to
play an acknowledged role in a relationship. A handsome young man,
well-employed on The New Yorker, possessed of a fond circle of friends,
he felt able to defy this one disadvantage. Like a fairy-story character,
he imposed only one condition in his love affairs. The beloved had to
comply in the understanding that his blindness was irrelevant,
insignificant. Mehta himself appeared to have complete mastery of his
surroundings, to see like other people. Seeming almost wizard-like in his
power, he was deemed invulnerable and thus well able to resist pain. Pain
was, with dreadful regularity, inflicted.

Readers may find other explanations for the torments Mehta suffered.
There is, for a start, the question of fatal attraction to a type. Other
than two gorgeous photographs of the author, in youth and maturity, we
are shown only the first beloved, a ballet-dancer. There is no denying
her beauty; she is ravishing, and the fact that she is dancing the role
of Persephone, flowers upheld, on the verge of the dark underworld,
presumably indicates her role as a goddess of light, resisting the truth
of Mehta's darkness.

Beauty is one quality shared by the four deities by whom Mehta is in turn
obsessed. Cruelty is the other. It comes in the form of a spectacular
indifference to the emotional damage they cause. Each goddess-girl
appears to him in a friendly guise, smiling, available, almost
housewifely. Each in turn reveals another relationship to which Mehta
will be condemned to take second place. Love is presented as a trial of
endurance, a challenge to his inability to keep up his role as the
invincible hero, master of the universe.

The first two tales, of Gigi and Vanessa, are relatively mild: not so,
their sequels. Lola, a German Punjabi girl who seems, in Mehta's search
for perfection, to answer his need for a fusion of eastern and western
cultures, carries echoes of Nabokov's Lolita, even in her name. Here, in
a story of pain and humiliation the like of which I have rarely
encountered outside fiction, Mehta plays a version of Humbert Humbert,
the kindly instructor, the wise academic to a girl he foolishly despises
for her lack of college education. Lola's compliance increases his
assurance. There is a wonderful sense of appropriate injustice in the
fact that Gus, the man who finally wins her, who has perhaps always been
the greater love, is a handsome layabout, capable of offering her none of
the glamour, culture or wealth with which Mehta, increasingly possessive
and distraught, had endeavoured to keep her. It is an awful story, and it
is to Mehta's huge credit that the reader feels complete sym! pathy for
Lola, not him. He was, as he shows, clinging and imperious enough to draw
the demon out of any girl.

Read on ...

Outstanding site created by a deafblind person

Planet of the Blind by Stephen Kuusisto (Faber £6.99)
Powerful account of coming to terms with vision impairment

That, in my reading, is the intriguing undertow of this confessional
work. Kilty, the last love, is shown as a friendly, homey beauty who
suddenly discloses herself as monster- goddess, driven by friends to
perform acts of considerable imaginative cruelty. But would the demons
emerge in this way if Mehta himself wasn't seeking them? I kept thinking
of Robert Graves and his muses, of women chosen as ritual killers, as
rechargers of emotion and creative power. Whatever the cause, the book is
remarkable. Mehta is a great stylist; combine this with a story of
searing honesty and you have a book that demands an intense response.

Available at the Sunday Times Books Direct price of £13.49 plus 99p p&p
on 0870 165 8585 or click here

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