Mary Gaitskill (3 stars)

Veronica (Serpent’s Tail)

Mary Gaitskill


Mary Gaitskill rarely shies away from the violence of inner life. S&M, self-harm and bad sex torment characters as they struggle to define themselves and the world and new novel Veronica is no different. Alison was beautiful, a model, before being ravaged by hepatitis. Now she stumbles around her own version of Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, with a lifetime of memories surfacing during the events of one day.

Gaitskill conjures up an effusive assault on readers senses, with repetitive imagery circling the narrative, creating a heady evocation of a lost life. At the centre of her gyre is Veronica, a talisman of sexuality, ego and vulgar humanity, who is portrayed as both exalted and pitiable before being killed off with AIDS and metaphorically sacrificed to Alison’s redemption (or at least acceptance) of the messiness of life. Where others see bleakness, Gaitskill finds hope and transforms a memoir into a dizzying, optimistic, visceral reminiscence.


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