Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Ask Agamemnon (1964) by Jenni Hall is a Sixties experimental novel about Jacki and Julian, twins, "blond, blue-eyed, eighteen" whose hedonistic lifestyle is interrupted by recurring dream-like scenes of terror. It’s a slim literary thriller, a bit Cocteau-ish. “A brilliant little novel, a tale of corruption,” said Alan Massie in The Spectator (25 June 2008).
A story about the sleazy underside of Swinging London, it uses the forms of Greek tragedy, but bizarrely the role of the oracle is played by a black teddy bear, named Agamemnon: the French edition (Gallimard, 1967) was entitled L’Ours Qui Savait. The story moves between scenes of sordid realism and the ritual dialogue of the classical drama. The book was filmed as Goodbye Gemini in 1970, and re-issued then with the film title.
The American edition of Ask Agamemnon (Atheneum, 1964) has a note on the author: "Born in 1939 in Bangor, North Wales, Jenni Hall attended language school in Switzerland, secretarial school in London, and art school in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. After working as a secretary and waitress for a year, Miss Hall spent several months painting and travelling. She returned to join the Film Artistes Association, where she has worked as a film extra since 1960, leaving herself time to write."
The author’s full name, according to the British Library, is Jennifer Antoinette Hall. She only published two other books: Mr Capon (Cassell, 1965) and The Diamond Trip (NEL, 1971). Her writing is cool, terse, and clear-eyed, observing bleakly the manners of her time and seeing in them primeval instincts and eternal patterns. Ask Agamemnon is a bold, strange work that is probably already a cult book among the cognoscenti: it is hard to find in any early edition.