Anais Nin’s A Spy in House of Love is a skillfully crafted, sometimes-puzzling little book well worth reading for its beautiful language and occasionally piercing insights. The story of Sabina, an enigmatic and ultimately insecure woman who is married to the paternal, dull yet adoring Alan while still being driven impulsively to stray, is told with a flair often distilled down to a prose poetry. She drifts along the streets of a beach town, wandering in and out of bars, speaking with strangers, and seems to be constantly followed by a man known as the “lie detector”. The level of pretense which she is forced to maintain with her decadent lifestyle leads her to regard herself as, “an international spy in the house of love”.
The novel itself takes on the stereotype that men are the ones able to talk freely of their sexual ventures, while for a woman to do so is something quite shameful. Sabina’s escapades are a metaphor for the journey of self-exploration of the author herself, who confessed to indulging in many affairs in her lifetime. Nin manages to capture the anguish of a woman on a quest to find love through lust. Sabina’s insecurities and her inability to accept herself are presented in a realistic and highly relatable way. “Compelled by a confessional fever which forced her into lifting the veil slightly, only a corner of it and then frightened when anyone listened too. At first she beckoned and lured on into her world, then she blurred the passageways, confused all the images as if to elude detection.”
Anais Nin is marvelous at capturing the heart of female sensuality, mystery and intricacy. Reading ‘A Spy in the House of Love’ feels like taking a hot, candle-lit bath while sipping on a glass of good red wine. One may sympathise with Sabina or portray her as the villain, but her struggle to find her true self among the many selves she has constructed for her lovers is a bewitching experience for all. “Trust alone is not love, desire alone is not love, illusion is not love, dreaming is not love.”