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Imaginary Women
Critical commentary

From Steven Connor, The Novel in Contemporary History, Routledge (1996) pp227-8

... Other, less mainstream and more 'experimental' novelists appear to have made greater demands on the form and its readers. Michael Westlake, for example, has attempted to push the impersonatory capacities of the novel to a comic extremity in a series of novels. Imaginary Women (1987) in particular attempts to give to written narrative someof the agitation and affective density of film. The novel is a congeries of different narratives, chopped into short sequences and spliced together, most of them with women as narrator or principal character. The various sequences neither interlock coherently nor build steadily, though some narrative continuity is provided by a mock film noir plot involving a film-maker known only as Mac**ash, a Professor J. J. Case, who migrates between genders, sometimes appearing as 'Julius John', sometimes as 'Julia Jane', and a succession of foreign powers. The novel includes a number of elaborate accounts of the plots of classic thrillers and films noirs, including Polanski's Chinatown, Hitchcock's North by North-West and Welles' The Lady from Shanghai, bizarrely knitted together with the motifs of fish, glass and water; and overlaid with sophisticated readings of the films from critics and viewers. The novel also seems to combine and contrast the differint modes of literary and film narrative. [...] Imaginary Women borrows the intensity and excessiveness of film narrative precisely in order to exceed it in a narrative that then lies somewhere between script, performance and critical reading. Though the novel concedes much less to its reader than the work of Salman Rushdie and Angela Carter, and its academic knowingness is sometimes merely smart, it testifies to the capacity of the novel to conjoin the diverse pleasures and experiences of narrative with an investigation of narrative's nature and force.

From Antony Easthope, 'Appendix I. Textual Practice: One Example', in British Post-structuralism, Routledge (1998), pp227-8