Hart, Josephine 1942(?)–
Hart, Josephine 1942(?)–
PERSONAL: Born c. 1942, in Mullingar, Ireland; father, a garage manager; married Paul Buckley (in publishing), 1972 (divorced, 1983); married Maurice Saatchi (chair of an advertising firm); children: (first marriage) Adam, (second marriage) Edward. Education: Attended Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Agent—Ed Victor, Ltd., 6 Bayley St., Bedford Sq., London WC1B 3HE, England.
CAREER: Writer. Haymarket Publications, London, England, started in sales, became publishing director; theater producer; writer. Gallery Poets, founder; West End Poetry Hour, founder; Books by My Bedside, Thames Television (England), presenter; producer of plays in the West End, London, England, including The House of Bernarda Alba, The Vortex, and The Black Prince.
Damage: A Novel, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.
Sin: A Novel, Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.
Oblivion, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.
The Stillest Day, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 1998.
The Reconstructionist, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2001.
Author's works have been translated into twenty-eight languages.
ADAPTATIONS: Damage: A Novel has been adapted for audiocassette, Random House, 1991, and for a film directed by Louis Malle, 1992.
SIDELIGHTS: Josephine Hart realized substantial critical and commercial success with her first book, Damage: A Novel. "I'd always wanted to write," she told Kim Hubbard of People magazine. "For years I paced around composing novels in my head. Everything was there; I just couldn't crash through the brick wall in front of me." However, as she told Mervyn Rothstein of the New York Times, "eventually it became more terrible not to write than to write." When Hart finally produced her first book in 1991, it was, as Hubbard noted, "with spectacular results," winning enthusiastic recommendations from reviewers and a place on the New York Times best-seller list.
Damage is the story of a middle-aged family man who becomes obsessed with his son's attractive, intriguing fiancée. The protagonist-narrator, a member of Parliament, eventually commences physical relations with the woman, who describes herself as emotionally damaged. Some of that damage, she reveals, stems from the death of her brother, who killed himself in despair over his unrequited love for her. The novel's central relationship—so passionate and erotic in its early stages—soon degenerates into more brutal expression. "The result," wrote Rhoda Koenig in New York, "is a climax that is somewhat operatic … but its heartbreaking, confused consequences are real enough."
Upon publication in 1991, Damage won acclaim as a compelling, provocative novel. Koenig, in her New York assessment, called Hart's work "that tricky thing, a novel of obsession." The reviewer contended that Damage is a daring literary venture. "Hart walks a wobbly line at times," Koenig observed, "but the intensity and observations of Damage sustain this nervy performance." Another enthusiast, Linnea Lannon, in the Detroit Free Press, found Damage to be "terrific fun." Hart's novel, she added, is a "short, chilling story of obsessive love."
Hart returned to the theme of obsession in Sin: A Novel. The story of an evil woman, Ruth, who conspires her whole life to ruin her "good" sister, Elizabeth, Sin contains Hart's trademark minimalist prose. Unlike its predecessor, however, Sin was not warmly received by critics, many of whom felt that the novel contained simplistic characters and a thin plot. "Sin sketches a world devoid of emotion," remarked Linda Gray Sexton in the New York Times Book Review. Added Sexton: "Ruth's strong and unemotional voice, which narrates throughout, chills us into numbness." Writing in the Washington Post Book World, Sally Emerson commented: "The chief problem of this flawed novel is that neither Ruth nor Elizabeth … is presented with any complexity or tenderness." A contributor to the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Thomas M. Hines was even more critical, calling the novel "a skeletal little outing with big pretensions." However, in the New York Times, critic Michiko Kakutani, while admitting that "Hart's staccato prose frequently grows mannered," noted that "this portentous language somehow works to draw us into the novel's rarefied, heightened world." Kakutani concluded that Sin is "a novel that's a limited but highly efficient tour de force."
Hart continued her pattern of short, intensely drawn narratives with her third novel, Oblivion. Whereas Hart's first novel explored lust and her second, envy, Oblivion tackles the subject of death. The plot features a grieving young widower, Andrew Bolton, whose attempts to carry on with his job as a journalist and recreate a normal personal life are hampered by his longing for his dead wife. Andrew's life takes a turn when he receives an important work assignment: a rare interview with the famous playwright, Catherine Samuelson. In the interview, Samuelson discusses her latest play, which is a study of death and its consequence: oblivion. Samuelson's play becomes a story within the story of Oblivion, engaging Andrew in examining the loss of his wife and his complicated feelings toward his current girlfriend. Reviewers were more generous toward this story than they were toward Sin. Writing in the Chicago Tribune Books, Victoria Jenkins stated that "Hart is extremely clever. Her work is stylish and remarkably assured." Noting that Hart's "fiction is marked by a brave attempt to tackle huge, dark topics" such as "lust, cruelty, [and] despair." In the Spectator, reviewer Anne Chisholm commented: "Inside its modish carapace, a simple, deeply felt story is struggling for breath." Concluded Chisholm: "Finally, the impression is of a small but determined talent in pursuit of the biggest, scariest subject around."
Hart followed Oblivion with The Stillest Day, another novel about fixated love. This book centers around Bethesda Barnet, a 30-year-old school teacher who lives with her aged mother in a village in England in the early 1900s. Though she seems to be quite average in her day to day life and has a farmer pursuing her romantically, Bethesda becomes obsessed with a new art teacher, Mathew Pearson, who moves in next door. Her fascination takes a deadly turn when Mathew's pregnant wife dies while giving birth and Bethesda is blamed for the deaths. A critic in Publishers Weekly noted "Hart has … learned to use atmosphere as a plot element rather than mere background detail, granting this study of … passion a complexity her earlier novels lacked."
In Hart's next novel, The Reconstructionist, she explores several ideas first touched on in Sin. Jack Harrington is a psychiatrist with a complicated life and a seemingly inappropriate affection for his sister Kate, perhaps due to a childhood incident. While taking care of Kate, a mentally unstable society woman pondering a second marriage, Jack also must deal with his own ex-wife, her illness, her second husband, and temporarily take custody of his wife's children from that marriage. After living on a family estate in Ireland until the death of their mother, Jack and Kate were raised by an uncle in London. Jack purchases this estate and eventually faces the truth about family secrets. Calling the novel "creepily compelling," Christina Konig of the London Times also commented: "While her plots … may strike some readers as over-schematic, there is a spareness to Hart's writing which strikes this reader, at least, as admirable."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 70, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Contemporary Popular Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Detroit Free Press, March 17, 1991, Linnea Lannon, review of Damage: A Novel, p. G8.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 13, 1992, Thomas M. Hines, review of Sin: A Novel, p. 1.
New York, March 11, 1991, Rhoda Koenig, review of Damage, p. 86.
New York Times, April 13, 1991, Mervyn Rothstein, "How a Theological Issue Led to a Novel on Sex," interview with Josephine Hart, p. 13; August 25, 1992, Michiko Kakutani, review of Sin, p. C16.
New York Times Book Review, August 30, 1992, Linda Gray Sexton, review of Sin, p. 16.
People, June 3, 1991, Kim Hubbard, "Damage Pays Off; Neophite Novelist Josephine Hart Scores with a Disturbing Best-Seller," biography of Josephine Hart, p. 55.
Publishers Weekly, August 3, 1998, review of The Stillest Day, p. 72.
Spectator, June 17, 1995, Anne Chisholm, review of Oblivion, p. 45.
Times (London, England), September 12, 2001, Christina Koning, "Better Not to Think about It, Dear; Books," review of The Reconstructionist, p. 17.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), December 17, 1995, Victoria Jenkins, review of Oblivion, p. 3.
Washington Post Book World, August 23, 1992, Sally Emerson, review of Sin, p. 4.
Josephine Hart Home Page, http://www.josephinehart.com (November 9, 2005).