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Dirty Weekend (1991) - Helen Zahavi

Related: 1991 - revenge - rape revenge film genre

Dirty Weekend (1991) - Helen Zahavi [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


Dirty Weekend is a 1991 novel by Helen Zahavi. In 1993 Michael Winner based a film on the novel with a screenplay by Zahavi and Winner.

Rather than about the traditional "dirty weekend", Zahavi's novel is about female revenge carried to extremes. "The serial-killer novel to end all serial-killer novels" (Ian Ousby), Dirty Weekend is set in contemporary Brighton and follows a young woman on a three-day killing spree. Bella, a woman in her twenties, takes random revenge on men for what they have been doing to women in general and her in particular. In the course of a weekend Bella kills seven men by slaying, suffocating, running over, shooting, and stabbing them. In the end she gets away with it all and prepares to move to the big, anonymous city of London.

In the novel the old picaresque tradition is revived: There is one central character, Bella, the picara, who is the only link to all the other characters. It is she who meets and confronts one man after the other, kills him, and moves on to the next.

Outline of the plot
Bella, a solitary young woman with a dubious past, has just arrived in Brighton. Having recently been dumped by her boyfriend, all she wants is some peace and quiet in her newly rented small flat near Brunswick Square. Tim, a young man living in one of the houses across her backyard, takes a fancy to the new arrival and soon starts watching and eventually molesting her. He accosts her in the park and rings her up day and night, explaining to Bella his deviant sexual fantasies which revolve around her person.

The police are not really helpful, but Bella is scared. On a stroll through the Lanes, she sees a sign advertising sessions with a clairvoyant and, on the spur of the moment, she visits him. Her meeting with Nimrod serves as both an eye-opener and a catalyst. When Bella leaves Nimrod that Friday afternoon, her self-confidence has been restored, her mind is set, and she is ready for action: She has just "had enough".

A few hours later Tim makes his last dirty phone call to Bella. At night she enters his flat through a window and batters the sleeping man's head with a hammer. On Saturday morning she goes to a gunshop, but all they are prepared to sell her is an airgun. When she leaves the shop she is followed by "Mr Brown", who does sell her an illegal weapon. On Saturday night, dressed to kill, she enters the lobby of one of the large seafront hotels and only has to wait for a few minutes until she is chatted up. Her unsuspecting victim is Norman, a clinical psychologist with a weight problem. Norman, who is attending a congress in Brighton, can easily persuade her to join him upstairs in his hotel room. Once there, he cannot get an erection and asks Bella if he can be her slave. Bella takes the opportunity and, while Norman is bound and gagged, puts a plastic bag over his head.

On Sunday morning she finds a dentist who is willing to treat her for her toothache. After he has fixed her tooth, the dentist offers to give her a lift home. Instead, he drives into an empty multi-storey car park and forces Bella to perform oral sex on him ("open wide"). As a result, Bella kills him with his own Mercedes. She steals the car and soon afterwards comes to the rescue of an old tramp called Liverpool Mary who is biding her time in a cul-de-sac near Brighton station. She shoots three yuppie-style young men who, drunk and angry, are threatening to set fire to the bag lady.

On the same night, at 4 a.m., while walking along the beach near the deserted West Pier, she realizes that she is being watched. The serial killer on the loose who is watching her thinks he has found his next victim, but when he attacks Bella she stabs him with a flick-knife.

The novel has been praised by Andrea Dworkin as "good" and "true".

See Simon Brett's novel A Shock to the System (1984) for a story with a similar subject matter.

The traditional British "dirty weekend"
The traditional British "dirty weekend" of the first half of the 20th century consisted in secretly going with one's lover to a place like Brighton or Blackpool, checking in as Mr & Mrs Smith, and afterwards denying it ever happened. It has also been the basis of many farces.

Blackpool has erected a monument to the 'underlying tension of a dirty weekend'. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_Weekend [Nov 2005]

Amazon review

Book Description
"Bella woke up one morning and realized she'd had enough." So begins the triumphant tale of one woman's personal vendetta against a world of peeping toms, rapists, and obscene phone-callers.

From the Publisher
'A brave, brilliant and beautiful book' - Julie Burchill 'As a literary turning-point, Dirty Weekend is significant; as a black comedy of very bad manners, it is sidesplitting; as a mimetic description of the revenge fantasies that women who have been sexually assaulted really do, if they are mentally healthy, experience, it is informative. But it would be a cop-out to explain this book as a refreshing metaphor for anything at all. It is, above all, an act; a warning.' - Naomi Wolf, New Statesman & Society

'If this book is given the serious feminist consideration which it deserves, it will cause uproar among us. Such uproar, division, grief and falling-out that one would prefer it had been released for, private reading only, among women only, and highly feminised women at that, before making it available to the general public. This book is that shocking... In the character of Bella, the humiliation and anger of Everywoman has been condensed, compressed and let explode against the oppressive weight of Everyman ... Helen Zahavi has a fatally attractive way with murderous words.' - Sunday Tribune

'Zahavi stares reality in the face and tells the truth. The message she brings is unpleasant and discomfiting, but it cannot be ignored. In the best books about murder we learn something valuable about the darkness within the human condition and maybe we catch a glimpse of ourselves. These books are all too rare. Dirty Weekend is one such book. Zahavi should stick around and scare some more bleak truth into the lies of men.' - Blitz via Amazon.com

Rape-revenge trope

Helen Zahavi’s Dirty Weekend is a rape-revenge fantasy
Helen Zahavi’s Dirty Weekend is a rape-revenge fantasy, embedded with an arsenal of canonical noir conventions such as labyrinthine plot, a depressing mood, and fragmented characters. However, the novel’s narrative trajectory is informed by its conscious generic inversion, and exacerbated by the portrayal of a female sociopath as its emotional centre. Dirty Weekend, according to Sally Munt, is a ‘feminist crime novel on to a superlative revenge fantasy that inventively synthesizes a hybrid satire in which the hero is a serial killer’. This arguably positions the avenger within the narrative itself, a liberating position that is traditionally occupied by a male protagonist character. Munt’s observation is undeniably political, hence the apotheosis of the sociopath female protagonist as ‘the hero’, an example of feminists’ revanchism that finds its apt expression in a serial killer noir text like Dirty Weekend. As Jane Caputi asserts, ‘the theme of revenge of women fighting back and serially killing those who would rape, abuse or kill them is increasingly prevalent theme in fiction authored by women’. The principal subversion of this genre as claimed by Caputi is the birth of a central female serial killer who is the protagonist rather than the antagonist of the text; like Bella in Dirty Weekend who refuses to remain or be a victim and goes out on a killing spree as an act of vengeance for the treatment she receives from men. Zahavi’s intention is to establish the link between Bella and her revenge by applying a feminist view of space as ‘a location in which to roam, play, plant and settle, not in which to bluster and bully, or in response, to cower and huddle’. As a satire, Dirty Weekend oscillates cunningly between noir conventions and a serial killer narrative, which as a result, produces a hybrid figure whose characteristics reflect the marriage of the classic femme fatale figure and the noir protagonist. With the emphasis on the working of her psychology, this novel provides an insightful and sympathetic understanding of the development of Bella’s character and the motivation behind her actions, which consequently create in the reader the inevitable sense of complicity. --http://www.crimeculture.com/Contents/Articles-Spring05/FemaleSerialKillers.html [Nov 2005]

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