Briefly, a little background–I have been reading Anais Nin for years. I wouldn’t call myself a fan because I came to her work already knowing a lot of the details she tried to keep hidden in her life but I was curious about her because she is often quoted in books on creativity and I wanted to read her work rather than just her quotes. Apprenticed to Venus is written by the grown up Tristine Rainer who was once mentored by Anais, kept her secrets and lived a life that was separate from but shaped by Anais’ role in her life. Tristine’s book is a new favorite of mine even as she and Anais are both difficult women who are more likely to be judged by the details they reveal rather than by the growth that interrogation of that knowledge induces in others. Still, Tristine’s skill, self reflection and genuine expression of an emotional tangle made me fall in love instantly.
Beautiful book. Although Anais is probably a bit out of fashion in the here and now, her life and her approach to living wind through so much of the discussions of feminism, sexuality, gender, love, consent and so much more. I am so grateful that Tristine wrote this book. For 7 or 8 years I’ve been reading Anais’ diaries expurgated and non. I understand that as diaries they are often a slogfest, difficult to wade through because there’s a narcissism that can be difficult to look past because it forces us to face that we are all narcissistic in our retelling of our selves and our lives–eager to find from truth that reaffirms what we need to believe in order to wake up and live each day. I’ve loved Anais’ diaries even as the woman within is so difficult. But she’s difficult and flawed like every other defining historical figure but often interpreted as worse because she was an unfaithful woman who spoke about sensuality unabashedly.
When I found this book it was like the treasure I’d been waiting for. I’ve been curious to read accounts of people who were in Anais’ life because she is often so candid in the diaries that I have always been curious as to the perspective from someone else with an equally candid but different point of view. Tristine does not disappoint! I loved that the style of the book echoed Anais’ expurgated diaries in that it is not raw diary entries but edited in order to flow narratively. Her insights from having been in Anais’ life echoed suspicions I’d had while reading the diaries.
Sensational details of Anais’ life often create the discordant note but I often suspect that her more scandalous choices underscore her lack of ability to choose and highlight instead how she used art as alchemy to transform a sense of helplessness into agency. Tristine interrogates this to an extent and I appreciated her tone. More than that I was grateful to have the opportunity to get to know Tristine too, the book would have suffered if it had been entirely about Anais.
The spirit of the diaries (for me) was always that intimacy of being invited into the messy heart of a human being who wishes to be loved and wishes to love in return. Tristine makes the same invitation. Where Anais’ diaries invite us in to get to know Henry Miller and extend to share Anais, Tristine invites us to get to know Anais but we also get to know Tristine. The experience is beautiful.