Fear of Flying is one of those books that I have known about for decades. But I’d never read it, because I knew so much about it, that it seemed I already had. Erica Jong’s chronicle of the soul-searching, erotic adventures of an intellectual young poet named Isadora Wing during the early Seventies and the second wave of feminism was groundbreaking and explicit.
Isadora’s frank, confident account of her quest for no-strings, satisfying sex (“absolutely pure” and “free of ulterior motives”) and her sensual inner life created a huge stir (‘scuse the Freudian pun, it’s hard - oops- not to get caught up in Wing’s world) when it was published in 1973. John Updike called the book “fearless” and Henry Miller predicted it would “make literary history” for its “wisdom about the eternal man-woman problem”. And of course, there was much serious discussion about female self-expression. Which is all very well and right - and the serious-minded have excellent points - but that’s what put me off.
Now I’m actually reading it, I am loving it because there’s another dimension that I am struggling to find much mention of in the serious critical reviews, which is that this is a brilliantly funny book, full of mordant humour and wonderful observations. Jong had me with the first line: “There were 117 psychoanalysts on the Pan Am flight to Vienna and I’d been treated by at least six of them.” Then, “Was it stepping on with the right foot or with the left that kept the plane from crashing?” Add in the sex and it’s a joy.
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