Novel on Yellow Paper, by Stevie Smith
Novel on Yellow Paper
Novel on Yellow Paper By Stevie Smith Virago, £9.99
The British writer Stevie Smith (1902-71) is best known for her poems, which were sly, pithy and, like Dorothy Parker’s, “filled with the pain of being alive”.Her semi-autobiographical Novel on Yellow Paper, from 1936, is a stream of inner chat, written by Pompey, a young woman who lives in a north London suburb and works as a secretary for a magazine publisher (as Smith did). Pompey’s thoughts run over a range of subjects, including her much-loved aunt, anti-Semitism, the rise of the Nazis, her fiance Freddy, Catholicism, sex and death. Its satirical tone, contemporary colloquial language and run-on style are both amusing and annoying. But, like Smith, its protagonist has remarkable intelligence and refuses to conform to the norms for women of her time. In the end her giddy monologue crystallises into something telling and sad.