Reading Note:
4 April 2018

On the strength of Laura Miller’s curious review, in The New Yorker, I bought and read Christine Mangan’s Tangerine. Actually, it was Miller’s oblique comparison of the novel to Now, Voyager that did it. 

Reading it reminded me of an evening a few years ago when I talked a friend into watching the 1942 Bette Davis vehicle “Now, Voyager.” I’d looked forward to sharing it with her, but her response was bemused. What, she asked, could I possibly see in a film so preposterous and stylized, so retrograde? I was stumped, unable to explain the delight I take in the movie’s glossy nonsense, in Davis’s makeover from a meek frump bullied by her mother into a slim, chic siren, gazing out at a sparkling sea with Paul Henreid from the deck of an ocean liner bound for Rio de Janeiro. What could be more idiosyncratic than my fondness for the very aspects of the film that someone else could legitimately complain about: its naked, conventional wish fulfillment, its fetishization of self-sacrifice, and Davis’s fiercely mannered performance?

Let me try again: It’s the fierceness itself, the gusto with which banal human problems—an awful mother or a philandering husband, adulterous longings or a schoolgirl crush—are heightened into glamour and tragedy, that is the soul of melodrama. 

Having just watched Now, Voyager again, for the umpteenth time, I have to say that it’s a lot more fierce than Tangerine, which I found a bit soggy. There is a great deal of cleverness in the book, but, as Miller concedes, it is not particularly well-written — “no Rebecca.” (I’ve recently re-read Rebecca, too.) Nevertheless, I was appetized. 

It couldn’t have helped that I’d just put down Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry

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