The smell of spoiled words

The Loves of Faustyna is a smart, subversive comic novel about life, romance and activism under Communist rule in 1960s–80s Poland. Written by Nina FitzPatrick, a pseudonym for Nina Witoszek and her late partner Pat Sheeran, Faustyna is packed with sly wit, flights of absurdist fancy, and answers to questions you never thought to ask.

I went to conferences and meetings where garrulous men with glamorous stubble agonized over decades of stupidity and blunder. Our country was short of everything except words. Rising above the fug of cigarette smoke, stale sweat and Dettol was the stench of verbiage.

If you rant for days in a room without doing normal things like cooking dinner or playing with a child or washing your hair, words begin to spoil. The smell is a mixture of lead, liquorice and slaked lime. Opening windows and doors doesn’t get rid of it.

Beneath the breezy, biting style there is satirical substance and historical heft. Much is said with little (“Our country was short of everything except words”).

An earlier book by Witoszek and Sheeran, Fables of the Irish Intelligentsia, apparently won the 1991 Irish Times/Aer Lingus Irish Literature Prize for fiction until the book’s unorthodox authorship was revealed. I haven’t read it, but there’s some discussion on the blog Culture Vulture.

In the comments there you’ll find a lovely tribute to Sheeran by Julian Gough, who has also written him into his Jude novels as an enigmatic inventor. My thoughts on Jude in London are here. Both books offer a vivid, anarchic recreation of reality; where Jude‘s is surreal, Faustyna‘s is bittersweet and sometimes troubling.

My impression is that Witoszek was the principal author of The Loves of Faustyna, but that’s just a hunch; I know nothing of how the co-authorship worked. But it worked.

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9 Responses to The smell of spoiled words

  1. languagehat says:

    From the Culture Vulture comment thread: “The books and scripts he wrote with his love of the last fifteen years, Nina Witoszek (under the extremely rude and wonderful pseudonym of Nina FitzPatrick), will live.”

    I don’t understand the “extremely rude” part; could you enlighten this clueless Yank?

  2. Stan says:

    Hat: The name suggests “Nina fits Patrick”. It need not be interpreted anatomically, of course.

  3. Shaun Downey says:

    But it surely will be by the likes of me Stan! Have just ordered a copy of Fables

  4. Stan says:

    Good on you, Shaun. If it’s anything like Faustyna, I bet it’ll go down well.

  5. John Cowan says:

    partner Pat Sheeran

    I was prepared to find that Pat was a Patricia, but no, apparently they were in fact married (and not in the lands of same-sex marriage, either). Is this (defeasible) presupposition about partner peculiar to North America?

    extremely rude

    Since her husband was Patrick, calling herself the (illegitimate) son of Patrick suggests an incestuous as well as homosexual marriage. Ya don’t get much ruder’n that.

    Our country was short of everything except words

    Certainly true historically of both Poland and Ireland!

  6. John Cowan says:

    Or in fact not married, perhaps, but certainly in fact legally able to marry. Ah well, so much for all that.

  7. Stan says:

    John: Yes, despite what Nina says elsewhere, I don’t think they were married: hence partner. But I’m open to clarification.

  8. wisewebwoman says:

    I’m enjoying the discussion thread, Stan. So much said about rudeness and so-called legal and illegal setups along with hetero or homo speculations.

    I would call the Fitz pseudonym clever and not rude at all. Strange word rude, I could riff for a few hours but won’t.

    ‘Tis your blog, sir, have at it if you wish.

    XO
    WWW

  9. Stan says:

    WWW: Indeed – one person wouldn’t bat an eyelid at something that makes another recoil in consternation. Without knowing the intent behind the pseudonym, I’ll not make any assumptions about it.

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