Book Review: Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma by Claire Dederer

What do we do with the art of monstrous men? FIFTY+SA Arts Reviewer, Dave Bradley, explores Claire Dederer's thoughts from her latest offering Monsters: A Fan's Dilemma.

WORDS: Dave Bradley, Arts Reviewer

Dederer’s third book (after Love And Trouble: Memoirs Of A Former Wild Girl and Poser: My Life In Twenty-Three Yoga Poses) is similarly autobiographical, yet darker.

An author, critic, journo and Mum, Claire began the journey that led to this in 2016, on the eve of Trump’s election, before the #MeToo movement really took off, four years before COVID, and so forth, as she pondered how she could love the films of Roman Polanski, despite knowing what he did to a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Could anyone still admire Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and his other masterworks?

As she considered the conundrum of great art made by awful people, the list of potential subjects got longer. And this led to Polanski being the focus of Chapter 1, and then there’s: Woody Allen (how can you watch his Manhattan now?); Michael Jackson, whose crimes she barely describes, assuming we know; violent misogynists Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway; appalling anti-Semite Richard Wagner; and more.

Some choices might seem a stretch, yet when she dissects Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and suggests that it seems to justify the crimes of pedophiles, you can’t help but agree. And others are also intriguing, including Valerie Solanas, fearsome author of the now-celebrated SCUM Manifesto, and the woman who shot Andy Warhol.

Noting the lack of female ‘Monsters’ here, Dederer thinks that probably the worst ‘crime’ a woman can commit in the name of art is abandoning her children, even as she (supposedly) does just that, if only for five weeks at a Texan artists’ retreat. She devotes a chapter to author Doris Lessing (Claire fears yet adores Lessing’s The Golden Notebook) and muso Joni Mitchell (who gave her daughter up for adoption as her career took off, and it haunted her), but notes that these ‘crimes’ aren’t the same as the guys and their rapes, wife-bashings, drunken rampages, and horrific ideals, which are too often excused because they’re ‘Great Artists’.

There’s much-needed humour here too, thankfully, with funny recollections of Claire’s years as a Seattle film critic, and the time she tripped in a New York street and suffered a painful injury (which she jokes was because of the continuing curse of Rosemary’s Baby). But she’s also capable of being scarily serious, like when she wonders if she can talk about ‘Monsters’ quite so harshly when, well, she might be one herself.

Or is she?

Hachette Australia: Sceptre, RRP $32.99

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