Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

Ann Quin

Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

Ann Quin

Article excerpt

Raised under complicated conditions in Brighton, Sussex, Ann Quin nevertheless enjoyed a deep, but short-lived camaraderie with many of the most notable experimental British writers of the 1960s and 1970s. While her first book, Berg (1964), received much general attention from reviewers, by her second book, Three (1966), she was easily garnering the praise of such writers as B. S. Johnson, Robert Nye, and Alan Burns, all of whom offered appreciative reviews of her work. When Quin went on to publish Passages in 1969 and her last completed novel Tripticks in 1972, these two later works were regarded as difficult and alienating by many reviewers, an attitude seen retrospectively by her publisher as having less to do with the works themselves than with the changing climate of English readership. Tripticks's release was soon followed by Quin's presumed and somewhat mysterious suicide by drowning in 1973. Not long after, Quin's impact on innovative fiction largely subsided, and her novels slipped out of print; although Berg served as the basis for the British movie Killing Dad in 1989 (directed by Michael Austin, starring Richard E. Grant), the movie hardly made a splash and little attention fell back on Quin's work. In America in particular, Quin's novels were unavailable for nearly thirty years and have only recently been reprinted (and in the case of Passages and Tripticks issued in America for the first time) by Dalkey Archive Press.

Little is known about Ann Quin's life. She was born in 1936 and raised by her mother, her father having abandoned them shortly after her birth. She was educated in a convent (though she was not Catholic), which she described as "A ritualistic culture that gave me a conscience. A death wish and a sense of sin. Also a great lust to find out, experience, what evil really was" (qtd. in Mackrell 608). In her teens she grew interested in drama, leaving school to join a theater company for a short-lived stint as an assistant stage manager. She applied to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but experienced intense stage fright when faced with the prospect of auditioning and soon surrendered any hopes for the stage, though dramatic performance and gestures inform her novels in terms of both form and content.

After leaving school, Quin began to write, poetry at first, later fiction. While employed as a secretary, she wrote two manuscripts, both of which were rejected by publishers. Trying to juggle her writing with the need to work for a living, she experienced her first nervous breakdown. Unable to get out of bed, she found herself subject to severe hallucinations, but after visits to a psychiatrist, she managed to pull herself together, for the "loneliness of going over the edge was worse than the absurdity of coping with day-to-day living" (qtd. in Mackrell 608). Soon after this decision, Berg was accepted for publication by John Calder and published to critical acclaim. Berg's success opened up new possibilities for Quin, allowing her to travel in the United States and Europe, where she would experiment with both sexs and drugs--travels that would serve as the basis for her last two novels. Quin would struggle with mental illness throughout her life and was hospitalized several times. In 1972 while traveling in Switzerland, Quin suffered a breakdown so severe that she was unable to speak for quite some time and ended up hospitalized in London for a month. She recovered sufficiently to begin work on a new novel and, because of insecurity about not being educated, took college entrance exams. She had been, at the age of thirty-seven, admitted to the University of East Anglia, but before she could begin, she died by drowning, presumably a suicide.

The peculiar appeal of Ann Quin's work is to be found in her style, which, according to Wilmott is "unconventional and goes against accustomed reading habits" (3). Formally, Quinn's work remains, even for the most knowledgeable readers, quite challenging. …

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