Plante writes of Sonia Orwell: “I was in love with the unhappiness in her, and yet reassured that, no matter what I did, what I felt it my duty to do, to lessen that unhappiness, I couldn’t: Sonia wouldn’t allow me to. Sonia reassured me in her frightening unhappiness. It was her secret.”
Nor is there any denying how severe Plante is on himself. He is the book’s ugliest character, a Uriah Heep content to grovel at the feet of genius (or, at the very least, social influence), lap up abuse and act out his revenge on the page. “I would get home from an evening of being victimized, angry and depressed, and swear I’d never see Sonia again. The next morning, however, I’d ring her to say what a lovely dinner party she’d given, and how I longed to see her again soon.”
He’s constantly auditing his motives: Why does he cultivate these friendships? To take advantage of these women? Because they remind him of his mother? Because they make excellent copy? And why does he prefer their company to that of other men, and in particular, other gay men?
He plays up his confusion to give the proceedings a bit of mystery, but it’s unnecessary in the case of Greer, who comes in for the book’s most admiring depiction for her easy mastery of everything from learning languages to fixing carburetors, the way she nourished everything around her (“Bloom, bloom!” she hectored her flowers), her pride in her “long, long, violently fluttering orgasms.” With her he finds for a time that closeness he’s been seeking. He listens to her splashing quietly in her bath and thinks: “Germaine could do that: could create a sense of intimacy between herself and another which you’d have thought came only after a long time together, and she did it in a moment, suddenly, and without reference to anything that had recently happened or not happened.”
That said, Greer, the only one of the three alive to see “Difficult Women” published, was memorably unimpressed. “He had no idea how deeply I would resent being made to utter namby-pamby Plante-speak like a dummy on his knee,” she wrote in The Guardian.
The women may utter Plante-speak, they may look ridiculous — they throw tantrums (Rhys), bully their dinner guests (Orwell), wander around half-dressed and flashing the…