ISBN 0 7206 1150 4
Who Are You? is a sparse depiction of the hopeless, emotional polarity of a young couple and their doomed marriage spent in a remote, tropical hell.
She — described only as ‘the girl’ — is young, sophisticated and sensitive; he, ‘Mr Dog-Head’, is an unreconstructed thug and heavy drinker who rapes his wife, otherwise passing his time bludgeoning rats with a tennis racket.
Together with a visiting stranger, ‘Suede Boots’, who urges the woman to escape until he is banished by her husband, these characters live through the same situations twice. Their identities are equally real — or unreal — in each case. With slight variation in the background and the novel’s atmosphere, neither the outcome nor the characters themselves are quite the same the second time. The constant question of the jungle ‘brain-fever’ bird remains unanswered — ‘who are you?’
The novel’s typical autobiographical bias can be traced to Kavan’s life in Burma during her first marriage. An experimental piece that clearly anticipates the nouvelle vaguecinema of Jean-Luc Godard, Who Are You? was reissued to widespread acclaim in 1973.
‘To write about this finely economical book in any terms other than its own is cruelly to distort the near-perfection of the original text. There is a vision here which dismays.’ — Robert Nye, Guardian
‘We are indebted to Peter Owen for reissuing Anna Kavan’s work . . . Who Are You?is accomplished and complete . . . so fully imagined, so finely described in spare, effective prose, that it is easy to suspend disbelief.’ — Nina Bawden, Daily Telegraph
‘Lots of fun to read, sprouts with a macabre imagination and is, no question, a classic.’ — Sunday Telegraph