Edinburgh Book Festival: Erica Jong, "The Fountain of Eternal Youth", Review

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Erica Jong with Ruth Wishart in the chair.
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Obviously well known to British audiences, Erica Jong was joined stage by Ruth Wishart who acted as chair for this session. For everyone this was a splendid opportunity, as Ruth put it, for us to hear from a woman who was seemingly very interested indeed in sex! To speak in Edinburgh, which has the reputation of being one of the most staid cities, would be a challenge for her! Anyway Ruth said that Erica was here to speak about her latest book, "Fear of Dying" which follows on from her great success with "Fear of Flying" in which she introduced us to Isadora Wing who makes an appearance in the latest book.

Erica Jong said that she was born as Erica Mann, although after four marriages she was called Erica Jong and she had been married now for twenty eight years to the same man! However, she said she still called herself Jong (she stressed the name!) although her married name is now Burrows. She wanted to stress that her new book was not a gloomy effort solely about death and she preferred to consider it as a book which allowed women to be more liberated - if you want to have sex at the age of sixty, then go and do it! But also the new book is very much about the links between women and 'the best girl friend' and this is why Isadora was introduced into the book.

She described in a reading from the book how Vanessa, as an older woman, looked at all the men who spent their time looking at the young women and assessing their potential for producing babies and felt herself to be still care-free and not really like those sayings that if "God is love" then you should get it in writing - or like the card trick which once you know how it is done, becomes very uninteresting.

However, she had always wanted to have a 'zipless' no strings attached relationship. So she decided to take the unusual - for her - step of putting an advertisement online on one of the dating sites. Having taken the dreaded first step she was overcome by panic at what sort of replies she might receive! Some were very explicit with pictures that would shock the reader, but she did have one response reply which addressed her in roughly this way, 'Dear Seeker after Jesus, your days will be full of satisfaction when we meet and be sure to know that Jesus always loves you.' At this it was all too much for Vanessa and I assume she managed to extricate herself from the website, however, read the book if you want to know how it all ended!

Erica then went on to look at her own situation, having been married four times and the emotional stress of fighting over a beloved daughter. There were also a host of other issues and the feeling of failure that accompanied divorce. She said that in her own case she learned a lot.

It took her ten years to write her latest novel. At the time, her parents were failing and her husband almost died and then she had to say farewell to her parents. Realities intrude on your working life and force changes to be made. For Jong it was a dramatic period and she felt very much like an orphan. Her mother had lived to 101 so no one expected her to die, she was always around. But what saved her was the firm links she had with her girl friends and they were wonderful to her.

She went on to talk about older women and agreed with Ruth Wishart, that there were plenty of good examples around, Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep were two who looked very good. In her opinion the rise of the older woman had been too long in coming! Every stage of life will be different and we should celebrate this; people are still gifted, still work out and are still able to pose for pictures - at which point Ruth Wishart suggested she should do one now as there were plenty of photographers around! The suggestion was not taken up, but Jong said why do men expect females to be 'young and cute' but possibly they may never have been so!

In the States cosmetic surgery was now accepted - Vanessa had a face lift in the book - and just look at Jane Fonda she said and how good she looks. "But can she speak," asked Ruth Wishart to amused laughter! For actresses it is very important as if you do not look good then you will not get the part.

Finally, she said that she had always had female friends and they were so very important as they were witnesses to your life. She said that her girl friends were such an important part of her life that she took a lot of trouble to keep in touch with them. She described her friends as being "very amazing and sometimes most glamorous". For her they were very special and very important.

During questions, Erica was asked for her views on Donald Trump and his bid for the Presidency. She said that she would give him one out of ten. She described him as a pathological, racist liar who reflects badly on the USA. She hoped that common sense would be exercised by her fellow Americans and that they would elect Hilary Clinton as in her view there was no contest.

When asked how did she rate her life, she said that at the age of forty she had a lover of twenty six who lasted until she found that he had guns in his attic! At fifty she had a fabulous time and now at seventy four she was having the time of her life!

Fear of Dying(October, 2015) by Erica Jong is published by Canongate.