Last week and this week I have been writing about a woman called Greta. I’m finding it really hard because she’s very different from me.
She is an extrovert and she is not very analytical. What she says isn’t always the truth. She says things I would never say and she brushes aside things that I would want to delve into. At the start of the novel she is in a relationship with a man called Jürgen. She has known him for nine years but they are not living together. She also sees other men. She craves contact with other men because Jürgen is not very exciting. He doesn’t like what she likes in bed. Greta is very physical. She loves sex. She loves talking about it, watching it and doing it.
So to get inside Greta’s skin I have been trying to write in a more physical way than usual. I have been wondering what happens inside her mind and body when she thinks about Jürgen. “Why be conventional when you can be happy,” she tells a friend; but there are many moments when she isn’t happy. When she is not having sex, when she is not in the gym, when she is not either looking at men or chatting to men, she is unhappy. I’ve been wondering how she deals with those nine years of memories of Jürgen.
I can’t use the words I would instinctively use to describe her feelings so I have been playing around with different ways of suggesting them indirectly. It’s tough, because Greta is very articulate, so her self-deceptions are sophisticated and opaque. She uses her obsession with the physical side of sex to avoid facing the fact that Jürgen no longer loves her.
I’ve begun to convey her emotions through her impressions of the four cities she moves through in this chapter — Düsseldorf, Helsinki, London and Cologne. There is also a flashback to a happy memory with Jürgen in Val d’Isère.
She is missing Jürgen. The snow-covered mountains of the French ski resort represent a time of security, warmth and happiness. Perversely, it’s the bustling modern cities that are cold and impersonal. The men she meets in them offer only illusory opportunities for human contact. They flirt with her but go no further.
I have lifted a long conversation from the end to the heart of the chapter. I have transplanted it from Cologne to London in order to make a dramatic contrast and give the narrative more energy; the conversation reveals Greta’s illusions and drives the plot along.
Her friend will play a major part in the story and has an adventure of her own to look forward to; but when Greta returns to Cologne, she is thinking only of her own problems and is desperate for Jürgen to return her calls.
[For my use of semicolons in this little summary, I owe thanks to W. Somerset Maugham, whose story Miss King I am reading today.
I am also indebted to François Villon.]