Review

Mantrapped

by Fay Weldon



Fans of Fay Weldon will find MANTRAPPED gratifying. Others may find
it trying. Half novel, half extension of her autobiography Auto da
Fay, this book's typically atypical main plot concerns a soul
switch in London between a down-on-her-luck, past-her-prime woman
named Trisha and a vigorous, modern young man named Peter. Weldon
alternates the tale of this unprecedented metaphysical event with
digressions about her own past. "Novels alone are not enough.
Self-revelation is required. Readers these days demand to know the
credentials of their writers, and so they should."

Whether one considers skipping between novel and autobiography
annoying will probably depend on how one likes Weldon's
philosophical asides. Weldon has been writing –-- ad copy,
plays and novels –-- for fifty years, and her observations
about the changes in her profession are trenchant indeed. "It is
not better and it is not worse: it is just different," she claims.
But underneath her air of cynical resignation, one senses a
nostalgia for the past, when men were Men (unapologetically
inexplicable) and the vagaries of the human spirit were not so
clinically explored. "Since Meg Ryan faked an orgasm in public,
what is there left to be exposed?"

To return to the story of Peter and Trisha and the soul-switch, the
mechanics of it are never quite explained. Peter lives with
Doralee, an efficient, smart young magazine writer who secretly
drinks tap water to decrease the likelihood of getting pregnant. It
all starts when Doralee upends a vase on her bed, necessitating the
cleaning of her mattress cover. "There was no time in her life for
the agents of misrule; for accidents or inefficiencies, or cheap
vases with not sufficient weighting at the base." Doralee sends the
cover off to Mrs. Kovac's cleaners, along with a little black
dress. But the buttons melt in the cleaning process. Mrs. Kovac
sends it upstairs to Trisha, who has squandered a lottery fortune,
and mends in exchange for a rent break. Doralee demands good
service, and when her little black dress is late due to the melted
mattress cover buttons, she sends the tractable Peter to pick it
up. At the cleaning shop, Peter goes upstairs to fetch the mattress
cover while Trisha is coming down, fuming at Mrs. Kovac's various
presumptions. They pass on the stairs, and voila --- Trisha
inhabits Peter's body, and Peter discovers himself stuck in
Trisha's.

Weldon is a master of cosmic and comical sexual shenanigans.
Despite the inherent difficulty in specifying which character is
doing, thinking or saying what, she makes the most of the
situation. (She finally resorts to using "the Peter body" and "the
Trisha body.") After getting thoroughly drunk and trashing the
cleaning shop, the two misfits return to Doralee, who naturally
enough wants the real Peter back, but who nevertheless is not above
making notes for a book about the subject that could make her
career. She drags the childish pair from psychotherapist to priest,
to no avail. Will the Peter body and the Trisha body have sex with
each other, or with Doralee? How can they reverse a process they
never asked for or understood in the first place?

I can't say I liked these characters, but liking the characters is
never the point in a Fay Weldon novel. You come for the delicious,
arch insights, the deadpan revelations, the quixotic observations
of the things that nobody used to talk about. Now that orgasms are
faked in public, the titillation of Weldon's prose may have lost
some of its effect. But for this reader, it was still worth the
journey.

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on January 7, 2011

Mantrapped
by Fay Weldon

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802117872
  • ISBN-13: 9780802117878