There’s a scene in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth where two men are talking about masturbation. The conversation struck me as totally fake. I’ve heard a lot of men talking about masturbation but never like that. Maybe it was supposed to be funny, I don’t know. I didn’t find it funny. I found it phoney. I lost interest in the novel at about that point. I read another fifty or so pages and then stopped.
That was back in the year 2000 and Zadie Smith has since gone on to become an internationally acclaimed novelist. Actually I think she was already an internationally acclaimed novelist even then, which must have been why I bought the book.
Last night I was reading another conversation about masturbation. This time it was in Jess C. Scott’s EyeLeash and the conversation struck me as totally authentic. This is how people talk about it, particularly online. It wasn’t literary but it was literate.
This probably means that Jess C. Scott won’t go on to become an internationally acclaimed novelist. She hasn’t been snapped up by a global publishing consortium and no-one has sunk a lot of money into her; but I’m enjoying reading EyeLeash nevertheless and I don’t think it’s just because she can write about masturbation and Zadie Smith can’t.
I’m enjoying the form as well as the content of the novel. It’s quite playful. The author is very comfortable in the modern media of mobile phones, blogs and chatrooms; and her creativity is completely unforced. Some of it is a little difficult for me to digest. There are whole chunks of conversations in which the screen names of the people talking take up far too much space on the page. I got a bit tired of Jade’s friends; and even the automated voice in Adobe Reader started to sound a little bored after the twentieth one-word comment from dot-plus-dot-sexy-naughty-bitchy-me-dot-plus-dot.
But the form is very contemporary and is integral to the story. This is how young people experience sex. It’s how they experience love. The novel captures what they do, how they interact and how they feel.
It’s quite a mature mix. EyeLeash isn’t only about masturbation. The novel deals with all aspects of sensuality and love. Some of it is very funny. It’s funny because the author is unflinchingly honest and yet doesn’t take herself too seriously. She knows how ridiculous she is being but at the same time she knows she isn’t being ridiculous at all — just human.
I haven’t finished reading EyeLeash yet. Maybe I’ll change my view of it when I have. But I’ve enjoyed reading it so far. I’ve read some of it more than once. For a free novel it’s pretty good value but actually for me time is more valuable than money and I think this is a very good use of my time.
I will end with a quotation not from EyeLeash but from a letter.
“I cannot endure your daily letters, I am incapable of enduring them. For instance, I answer one of your letters, then lie in bed in apparent calm, but my heart beats through my entire body and is conscious only of you. I belong to you; there is really no other way of expressing it, and that is not strong enough. But for this very reason I don’t want to know what you are wearing; it confuses me so much that I cannot deal with life; and that’s why I don’t want to know that you’re fond of me. If I did, how could I, fool that I am, go on sitting in my office, or here at home, instead of leaping on to a train with my eyes shut and opening them only when I am with you?”
That was Franz Kafka writing to Felice Bauer in 1912. Franz Kafka was not a 17 year old girl but a 29 year old man and already the author of what was to become one of the most famous stories ever written, Metamorphosis. But I think, from reading his letter, it is clear he would have understood completely everything that Jade Ashton describes in EyeLeash. The feelings are the same; only the media have changed.