Damage By Josephine Hart. Knopf: 200 pages; $18.00.
"My life was a good performance," broods the narrator of "Damage." Here he takes a deep breath and begins his long annoying yarn about how he got vamped.
A pure enough English boy becomes an English man. The man (Josephine Hart doesn't give him a name) becomes the doctor, gets married to the wealthy blond woman, has the two children, becomes the member of Parliament. But he is unfulfilled. Pretty heart-rending.
Then. . . . THEN, one day he meets his son's new girlfriend. Love smacks him right across the face. "Just for a moment," the nameless man gasps, "I had met my sort, another of my species." True love, true lust. Soon we can barely read for the sound of his heavy breathing.
Anna, the woman around whom he centers his previously superficial life, is "damaged." Apparently this means she has experienced tragedy and lived to tell about it. Her brother, despondent over his own forbidden love for her, committed suicide when they were teenagers. Now she is cold, vampirish. Our man calls her "Dark-eyed, motherlike, the timeless creator of the thing that hurt her." The creator of the thing that hurt her. In other words, the classic Evil Woman forces the defenseless men to fall in love with her and if they kill themselves it is her fault.
Lots of things are Anna's fault, not only her brother's death. Oh no. She is also responsible for the complete dissolution of this poor Englishman's life. Everything he holds dear. Gone. All because she has "seduced" him.
For a man in the crushing grip of a wicked woman, our protagonist's lovemaking certainly is violent. Their "love" scenes are brief and shocking for their lack of even rudimentary gentleness. If she has so much power over him how come she seems to get the shoddy end in these rapid rendez vous in Paris alleys and rough master and slave games? Anna obliges with little emotion. He, on the other hand, slavers ecstatically and calls himself "the enslaved master."
Anna's stepfather and ex-lover warn him that she'll ruin his life (How? By just being alive?) But our poor member of Parliament is already captive.
I have trouble pitying this smug product of wealth and country clubs. He stomps over lots of people in his search for fulfillment. But it's not his fault, is it? It's the evil Anna's. She, as she puts it, is "damaged" and cannot be hurt.
But what does Anna do except everything this man wants? Anna is a survivor of tragedy. In the eyes of the author, this makes her diseased but desirable. That's disgusting.
Though the book is gripping in the way that all desperate confessions are, a bloody vein of assumptions runs through it. Anna is powerful in her powerlessness, while the man, as he writes his tear-stained confession, is a victim of circumstance, a person to be pitied, even identified with, as one (surprisingly) female reviewer gushes: "It is rare for any novelist to create such a close identification between reader and narrator as to make us so profoundly feel his pain, experience his pleasure, and suffer with him reality's horrible revelations."
The true horrible revelation is that someone would try to revive the dying notion that victims are somehow powerful or alluring. "Damage" is a pretty appropriate title.