Review

The Spa

by Fay Weldon

It
is fascinating to me that in the United States some people
don’t expect a reader to have any prior knowledge of
literature, so that zingy titles that reference works the rest of
the world knows to be "classics" can't be used here. So is the case
with Fay Weldon's rather zingy THE SPA, the latest of her 26
novels. The title in England and other parts of the world is THE
SPA DECAMERON, but here in the U.S. it is merely THE SPA. The
reference to Boccaccio's DECAMERON would be evident to even the
most dim-bulbed college student --- a book made up of many tales
from different characters, one more bizarre than the next.

The idea with THE SPA is that there is a horrible plague invading
the outside world. This pandemic needs getting away from --- it's
called the "Sumatra flu" --- but it doesn't seem to be happening
too fast because the ladies in this book have time to take to the
spa and indulge in the caviar, champagne and mud packs that it has
to offer. I have to admit that taking chocolate into a hot tub
sounds like a nice way to spend an afternoon. Weldon makes a brave
case for these characters that they don't just want to be here ---
they need to be here, they deserve to be here,
based on the horrible things that have happened to them prior to
their arrival. Like the children in the chocolate factory, THE SPA
creates a Willie Wonka-like dreamland for stressed-out women in a
crazy world. But the stories don't go down as easily as the
chocolate might.

The narrator, Phoebe, arrives at the spa because her husband is off
working and her house has been flooded. This unfortunate event
occurs several days before Christmas, certainly a case of bad
timing. And the women who are also residing at the spa that week
include some very curious types: the loveless twin who is a
well-respected surgeon, the crude and offensive manicurist whose
last admirer was a sheik, a hermaphroditic judge with too much
testosterone who has undergone a severe alteration in her very
being. No one has a good thing to say about guys; clearly the
gender wars are still very much at work here. The stories attempt
to one-up each other with more lurid and sensationalistic
specifics, but it gets to the point where you find yourself rolling
your eyes and wondering if all the normal people have died of the
flu already.

Weldon has never been, how shall I say, a "soft" writer. She is
interested in the politics of men and women and the ongoing
movement of civilization towards a place where their differences
will force a final battle. To the victor goes the spoils, as it
were, and here in THE SPA it feels as if the victors are those who
have the opportunity to come through harrowing experiences, many at
the hands of men, and yet be able to find a way to relax and still
enjoy their lives by bonding together, towel-clad and chocolate at
the ready, in hot tubs.

This is a typical Fay Weldon book, filled with anger and derision
and females who are victims. However, as in her long-ago classic
THE LIFE AND LOVES OF A SHE-DEVIL, she made them the ultimate
victors through hard work and clever thinking. THE SPA means to
make heroines of these ladies who have suffered and yet persevered.
But the fact that they are all victims to begin with tells a sad
and well-worn tale about the place of women in this world at large,
pandemic or no.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 23, 2011

The Spa
by Fay Weldon

  • Publication Date: February 18, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 080211864X
  • ISBN-13: 9780802118646