by Lee Clough
Can we “be” as a statement? Exist as an exploration? Represent a philosophy with our own bones? Norwegian author Edy Poppy’s curious interplay of life and writing unravel in her novel Anatomy. Monotony.
Life Mimics Art
How would you live, if you knew your actions—even the most intimate ones—could be selected, perhaps altered, then published on the page? I witnessed how this could indeed occur through my friendship with Edy Poppy, who wrote her life as it was happening over a seven-year duration. Finally, I have read the story I lived alongside for nineteen years. This work of autofiction is her own emotional, rather than strictly factual, truth, as she’s said in an interview with the American-Norwegian author Siri Hustvedt. She reveals too the almost clairvoyant reciprocation between art and life in her process. Through writing, it was possible to envision new situations and attitudes which then fed back and influenced her actions in response. An open marriage with her French, now ex-husband Cyril brought a defining of self lived simultaneously in life and in writing. Edy Poppy’s first-person protagonist is the Norwegian woman Vår, whose husband Lou, also French, says to her, “I like you best when you’re writing, Vår,” continuing: “Remember to keep a certain distance, darling. It’s important to be critical, even when you’re in love. Especially when you’re in love…”
Book Mimics Film
After the fade-in, the “word-film” begins. Short, simple chapters roll; a series of moving scenes. “I make my way toward Charing Cross station. Push people to get past them. I have to pee.” As a camera would, we follow like a voyeur, taking in details more intimate than a diary. Beginning by weaving through London streets at the turn of the millennium, at that pre-social-media pace, now lost. Mundane, repetitious daily events are detailed: countless breakfasts, cigarettes, moments of gazing out of windows, neurotic pee-trips… Without the full knowledge of hindsight or contextual meaning within her larger life “story,” Poppy lived each moment out loud, intricately documenting the anatomy of her monotony in initial note form for the book. The novel tactfully leaps across locations in a non-linear way, between spaces remembered and fiction within fiction, before allowing its singular narrative to unravel. It takes us to London, memories of Montpellier, to both recollection and real time in a small Norwegian village.
The “Self” as a Game
“I play a game with my husband. If I manage to find a new man to love, he’ll break it off with his mistress.” Vår develops laudable skills before the reader’s eyes: transforming endurance and suffering into thriving, sadism’s pain into investigative curiosity, through a risky dance with masochism. With physicality detailed in depth, we feel our way sensually through the pages. Intricate descriptions of recurring blisters from Vår’s (formerly her mother’s) yellow shoes; a stray drop of pee that escapes and rolls down her leg.
Rôles in sex and love are continually questioned. The concept of “the whore as fantasy” is investigated, for instance; she ponders her brief, mildly sexual encounter with a “repulsive man.” Vår actively shapes her identity as a woman, often using reference points from Anaïs Nin, Jean-Luc Godard, and others. “He gives me a pair of much-too-big corduroy trousers, a pair of socks, a man’s underpants, and a very ordinary sweatshirt. I love this American look on me: tomboy, boy-girl, la garçonne. Lou, too, would have liked me like this, I’m thinking, masculin, féminin, like in the Godard film.” In turn, her precepts concerning men are blown wide open: “I write in my notebook: It is important to return to the softness, the softness of a man, that a man can also have skin almost like silk. And the whiteness. In very blond people. The whiteness on the border of red. The hair under the arms, on the legs, around the sex…”
Layers of Time
Along with the locations mentioned above, Poppy also leaps into lesions within time, dancing in overlapping memory, real time and (non-fictional) fiction within fiction, before a magical merging into lineal clarity towards the end. In a reverie with her American lover, Vår mulls, “Isn’t it incomprehensible, this thing about light years, that time is distance? I wish I could fly into space… know exactly where to stop, so I could play this scene, the two of us, tonight, over and over again, for the rest of my life. Just by walking slowly backward, like a moonwalk.” In a novel within the novel, Vår writes about her childhood, leading the reader to also moonwalk back to Poppy’s own real childhood in the mountain village Bø, in Telemark, Norway. Vår’s main character is her alter ego (named Ragnhild, Edy Poppy’s birth name). Poppy allows this past to gradually intertwine, tangle, then unite with the present: the fire that ravaged Ragnhild’s childhood farmhouse and a family trip to Denmark only weeks later emerge in another layer of time and reality when Vår and her American lover, whom she met in a café in London, share a romantic speculation that they may possibly already have met as children on this very trip to Denmark. “We get on like a house on fire,” she writes on the photograph of the burning childhood home she gifts him (Poppy’s real childhood home).
Layers of Reality
Themes, motifs, and metaphors of Vår and Lou’s marriage merge with film, art, music, and literature. Snippets of culture enmesh with their lives. For instance, when Noodles, the main character in Sergio Leone’s famous film Once Upon a Time in America, is asked what he’s been doing all these years and responds, “Gone to bed early.” This suddenly, scarily speaks of the couples’ own lives of repetitive sleeping and eating, during a difficult period in which their love experiment bites back hard. The bittersweet, sadistic power game described in the lyrics of the Velvet Underground’s Venus in Furs plays at an appropriate instance. The married couple sleeps with one of Vår’s former lovers and his new girlfriend, and the lyrics seem to describe their very circumstances. This occasion then feeds back to lend a new or deeper meaning to the song: a coincidental exchange between music and life. Vår fantasizes that she is a character in a fictional book, perhaps by Marguerite Duras, when in fact she is, ironically, already a character in a novel. Yet she also isn’t. In truth, she is the author herself: Edy Poppy. And Vår’s own fictional book within Poppy’s is actually non-fiction. It is Poppy’s truth.