Anna Kavan is a truly unique figure in English Literature. She is a combination of Djuna Barnes, Virginia Woolf, Anaïs Nin and Franz Kafka. Anais Nin was a great admirer of her work and unsuccessfully tried to instigate a correspondence with Kavan. Brian Aldiss described her as ‘Kafka’s sister’. She resembles Kafka in the way the development of her own ‘nocturnal language’ involved the lexicon of dreams and addiction, mental instability and alienation, all of which are familiar enough Kafka-esque themes.
Her best books are: A Horse’s Tale; Ice; Guilty; Sleep Has His House; My Soul in China and Who Are You? Her other books are also wonderful. Her novels are like no other novels in existence; her short stories are surreal and haunting.
Anna Kavan: Self-portrait
Here is a list of Anna Kavan’s books:
Asylum Piece (1940)
Change The Name (1941)
I Am Lazarus (1945)
Sleep Has His House (1948)
The Horse’s Tale (with K. T. Bluth) (1949)
A Scarcity of Love (1956)
Eagle’s Nest (1957)
A Bright Green Field and Other Stories (1958)
Who Are You? (1963)
Julia and the Bazooka (1970)
My Soul in China (1975)
My Madness: Selected Writings (1990)
The Parson (1995)
If you do read Anna Kavan, start with Ice or Guilty or Who Are You? and then move on to reading the others. You won’t be disappointed. But you will find yourself alone in a strange landscape with no recognisable landmarks. Enjoy the experience.
Anna Kavan’s Nocturnal Language
© R J Dent (2009)