Who Are You? is a sparse depiction of the hopeless,
emotional polarity of a young couple and their doomed marriage
spent in a remote, tropical hell.
She described only as the girl is
young, sophisticated and sensitive; he, Mr Dog-Head,
is an unreconstructed thug and heavy drinker who rapes his
wife, otherwise passing his time bludgeoning rats with a tennis
Together with a visiting stranger, Suede Boots,
who urges the woman to escape until he is banished by her
husband, these characters live through the same situations
twice. Their identities are equally real or unreal
in each case. With slight variation in the background
and the novels atmosphere, neither the outcome nor the
characters themselves are quite the same the second time.
The constant question of the jungle brain-fever
bird remains unanswered who are you?
The novels typical autobiographical bias can be traced
to Kavans life in Burma during her first marriage. An
experimental piece that clearly anticipates the nouvelle
vague cinema of Jean-Luc Godard, Who Are You? was
reissued to widespread acclaim in 1973.
To write about this finely economical book in any
terms other than its own is cruelly to distort the near-perfection
of the original text. There is a vision here which dismays.
Robert Nye, Guardian
We are indebted to Peter Owen for reissuing Anna Kavans
work . . . Who Are You? is accomplished and complete
. . . so fully imagined, so finely described in spare, effective
prose, that it is easy to suspend disbelief.
Nina Bawden, Daily Telegraph
Lots of fun to read, sprouts with a macabre imagination
and is, no question, a classic. Sunday Telegraph
ANNA KAVAN, née Helen Woods, was born in Cannes
probably in 1901; she was evasive about the facts of
her life and spent her childhood in Europe, the USA
and England. Twice married and divorced, she began writing
while living with her first husband in Burma and was published
under her married name of Helen Ferguson. In the wake of the
collapse of her second marriage, she suffered the first of
many nervous breakdowns and was confined to a clinic in Switzerland;
she emerged from her incarceration with a new name
Anna Kavan, the protagonist of her 1930 novel Let Me Alone
an outwardly different persona and a new literary style.
Her first novel in this guise was Asylum Piece, and
it achieved for her a certain recognition. She was a long-term
heroin addict and suffered periodic bouts of mental illness,
and these facets of her life feature prominently in her novels
and short stories. She died in 1968 of heart failure soon
after the publication of her most celebrated work, the novel