Knowing Women

Knowing Women by James Lawless made me think of one very good book I read a year ago, and two poems, one I have read several times in the last few months, and one I have not read in decades.  That Knowing Women brought these three powerful works to my mind is a very high tribute to its artistic depth and high intelligence.  I will explain what I mean in a bit.
The central character in Knowing Women is Laurence Benbo, thirty seven, a bachelor getting over a so so relationship, living in Dublin.  He is bashful and has had difficulty finding women in the past.  He likes to go for walks around Dublin, when he is not at his job as a graphic artist.  He notices an attractive woman sitting outside reading Anna Karenina.  He is intrigued by her and begins to follow her on his daily walks.  Not wanting to give away to much plot, he follows her, she is from Eastern Europe to the club where she does lap dances.  He gets to know her, she is not really a prostitute but she does begun to take gifts from Laurence and they do start a romance of sorts.  Laurence wins a big lottery prize.  Now a subplot begins involving his brother and his family.  The brother has always up until now considered the better adjusted and more successful of the two.  Something nasty happens to Laurence, caused by his brother and sister-in-law, who I did come to emphasize with.  I will leave the rest of the plot unspoiled.  There is sex, fascinating plot twists, and it does feel like Dublin is being well depicted.
The first book Knowing Women reminded me of was Occasions of Sin:  Sex and Society in Modern Ireland by Diarmaid Feriter.  Feriter depicts a culture of sexual repression, of joyless sex, late marriages and old virgins with the church and the state in everyone’s bedroom.   I see Laurence Benbo as clearly emerging from  this.   His girlfriend might as well be a prostitute.  Recently I read for the first of now numerous times Patrick Kavanagh’s majestic poem, “The Great Hunger”.  Benbo made me think of the men in this poem who never really mature sexually or discover their sexual nature.  Men with a hunger they don’t understand.  Lastly, and this reaction is probably quite off the wall, I was at once brought to mind by the hesitant character of Benbo, “The Love Song of Alfred J. Profrock” by T. S. Eliot.
Knowing Women is observationally and psychologically acute.  It is also a lot of fun.  You knew this middle aged graphics artist with an Eastern European bisexual lap dancer girl friend was headed for trouble and I enjoyed observing his tribulations.
I recommend this book very much and hope to read more of the work of Lawless in 2014.

Review by Mel Ulm from his blog The Reading Life, 5/1/14

Knowing WomenJames Lawless: Kindle Store

New Novel Knowing Women

Knowing Women Authored by James Lawless

List Price: $14.00
5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
Black & White on White paper
284 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1481979382
ISBN-10: 1481979388
BISAC: Fiction / Literary

Laurence J Benbo is a thirty seven year old graphic artist and Dublin bachelor, awkward with women and lonely after the breakup with his girlfriend Deborah. He meets Jadwiga, a lapdancer and, after winning a lottery, he bestows gifts on her. But his upwardly mobile brother Maoilíosa and his scheming wife Ena, on hearing of his win, try to blackmail the innocent Laurence into handing his money over to them by alleging that he interfered with their daughter Lydia. Laurence seeks out Jadwiga for advice in her lapdancing club. To his dismay, he sees her going into a room with Maoilíosa. He spends the night awake listening to the rain pattering at his window, thinking of Deborah and he imagines little Lydia coming to seek out her uncle Lar to finish the story he had started reading to her. As the rain gets heavier he knows there is going to be a storm.

“James Lawless has a mighty thoughtful and penetrating capacity to make you gasp and rage and then burst out laughing,”
Jennifer Johnston

Surgical Dissection of a Dublin Bachelor

by Hilary A Whtie, Sunday Independent, 24/11/13

Laurence J Benbo represents a demographic which perhaps doesn’t get its fair share of literary attention; the late-30s Southside Dublin bachelor, tied down solely by their profession and exiled from most friends and family by not having a wife and child of their own. When he clocks off from his job at Print 21 and totters home to his North Circular Road flat, all Laurence has to occupy himself is smut, the last addiction that he can exercise in private as he approaches middle-age.

His wandering eyes happen upon the comely Belarusian dimensions of Jadwiga in a park during his lunch break. He’s awkward with women, especially since his relationship with Deborah ended, so he stalks the younger Jadwiga around the city salaciously, to her strip club workplace and finally her front door, which she unexpectedly opens for him.

Soon afterwards, Laurence wins €100,000 on a scratchcard but so vacuous is his existence that overpriced gifts for Jadwiga are all he can think of to spend on.

His life gets severely more interesting when news of his windfall reaches Maoiliosa and Ena, his younger, more masculine brother and poisonous sister-in-law. From their Malahide home overlooking their moored yacht, the couple concoct a plan to blackmail the money from Laurence by framing him for interfering with their young daughter Lydia.

The title of James Lawless’s latest is a clue to the turbulent thought patterns that swerve around Laurence’s ever-pondering mind where the opposite sex is concerned. He’s rather paranoid and tends to live in a state of heightened anxiety and awareness of women, both in what they might take from him or provide carnally for him. His fading mother is losing her faculties in the nursing home, dropping obscure bites of information between catatonic lulls. He has a suspicion of both the coke-guzzling Ena and his mentally abusive co-worker Miss U Ryan, and for good reason.

A sad encounter with his ex Deborah, the only woman who loved him, verges on traumatic. The final straw is Jadwiga, however, who upends his world when he spies her consorting with Maoiliosa in her club.

Lawless’s antihero is a tragic template, a less fatalistic version of the character of Brandan in Steve McQueen‘s Shame, or a more sober, contemplative rewriting of someone from the pages of Chuck Palahniuk. On the face of it, Laurence has little to feel that hard-done-by about his lot (these are first-world problems) but he is really only living a half-life, one of anonymity and aimlessness where he is forced by social norms to sneakily treat his solitude through magazines and websites. But when it transpires that one-time golden child Maoiliosa, in whose shadow Laurence dwelled for most of his youth, is arguably more dysfunctional, Lawless gets to the crux of his argument – what is normal, and who are society’s real deviants? Perhaps we have no right to judge the Laurences of this world.

Self-published, prolific and possessed of a lively, fleet-footed style that brims with intellect and poeticism (he has a study of modern poetry, 2009′s Clearing The Tangled Wood, to his name), Lawless is an author who we should perhaps start taking more seriously.

As in last year’s Finding Penelope, he portrays a protagonist with a breadth that is effortlessly involving, dismantling “a nobody” and presenting them as “a somebody”. Admittedly, this often involves speaking through Laurence in lurid, pulpy tones but his ability to treat the ultra-ordinary with a surgeon’s forceps is quite impressive.

Hilary A White, Sunday Independent, 24/11/13


Review by Anita Kearney in Goodreads.

James Lawless has created a character that could be any middle-aged lonely man or woman in any city in any country. The loneliness of Benbo is almost palatable. His voyeuristic view of life is both amusing and disturbing. This is the story of a man who is desperate for a connection with someone, anyone but also afraid to allow that connection to be made. The book is a testament to the idea of being alone even though you are surround by and are interacting with others.
The story is one that is old as time but with a new twist that keeps you turning the page to find out when it will all go wrong and when it does how will Benbo react. You are not disappointed as the story moves along at a good clip to reach a climax that is not quite what you would expect. All in all it is a fine read, I highly recommend it for a rainy day.

5.0 out of 5 stars Knowing Women,March 17, 2013
This review is from: Knowing Women (Kindle Edition)

`Knowing Women’ is an enticing story of a middle aged man battling his loneliness, while showing us how far women can go.

James Lawless has delivered again! I do happen to be a Lawless fan, although I try very hard to keep my reviews unbiased.

Follow thirty-seven year old Laurence Benbo through a tale of middle-aged crisis. After another break up, Benbo is left feeling old and perpetually alone, even though he has recently won the lottery and is quite wealthy.

Then he meets Jadwiga. A dancer at a strip club. Onto whom he showers lots of money and gifts, thinking that this is the way to form a relationship with her.

All the while Benbo’s family is trying to blackmail him out of his lottery winnings. When Benbo finds out his precious Jadwiga is meeting with his brother, well, things just are not looking good for him.

Jadwiga only cares about one thing in this world, and that is acquiring her citizenship.

Bonus material : Interview with James Lawless

5.0 out of 5 stars Unique and contemplative,March 17, 2013
rocket7001 (Dublin, Ohio United States) – See all my reviews
This review is from: Knowing Women (Kindle Edition)

Knowing Women is a unique and thought-provoking read.

There is an interview with the author at the beginning. This provides background information and adds depth and perspective to the story as it allows you to see how the idea came about and what the author was thinking as he wrote.

This story is about Laurence J Benbo, a 37 year old bachelor living in Dublin. He is saddened and lonely after breaking up with his girlfriend. He is also incredibly awkward around women. Laurence is desperately lonely. He wants to find love, but more importantly, he longs for a deep and meaningful connection with someone. Despite his desperation, he is also apprehensive about approaching people. Laurence is often surrounded by other people, but he is never together. His interactions are with people who are often lonely in his presence, which leads to Laurence feeling even more lonely and disconnected.

Everything seems to be going wrong for Laurence in his relationships. He meets a lap dancer named Jadwiga at a club and is immediately enthralled. He showers her with gifts and money in an attempt to form a relationship. He has just won the lottery and has plenty of money to spare.

His family is jealous of his win, and they attempt to blackmail him into handing over the money. His brother Maoilíosa and sister in law Erica start accusing him of interfering with their relationship with their daughter Lydia. Laurence seeks out Jadwiga for advice, but is distressed to see her enter a room with Maoilíosa. He lays awake at night thinking about his ex-girlfriend and his young niece as he listens to the rain fall outside his window and waits for the storm.

The author’s writing style is very poetic. The writing feels like short fragments and descriptions weaved seamlessly into each other. This is a serious and often sad story, but it also feels very touching and is at times beautiful to read. The many strong feelings and emotions jump out from the pages and grab you in a very real way.

Although Laurence may seem like an unlikely choice for a protagonist, you will find yourself relating to him as you read. The further along you are in the story, the more you will feel like you have known him for a long time. At first, you will feel like you are watching a train wreck as you read about his life. You will feel a bit like a voyeur as you wonder what will go wrong next. It is hard to pinpoint exactly when, but as you continue on the journey with Laurence, you will be stirred by his emotions and start to feel very invested in what happens to him.

All the characters are very unique. They each add something to the story, and even characters that seem minor at first will play a major role. The ending wraps up loose ends, but not in a way you will expect. All your questions will be answered, but you will find yourself wanting answers to the underlying emotional questions. The ending is thought provoking and contemplative.

This is a serious look at deep and often sad and troubling subjects. The dialogue is very real, and there is some cursing in the story. As long as you are not offended by these things, I would recommend Knowing Women. It’s hard to describe such a deep and melancholic read as enjoyable, but I guarantee you will get something out of it. You certainly won’t regret giving this unique read a try!

4.0 out of 5 stars “You can’t know a woman”,March 16, 2013
This review is from: Knowing Women (Kindle Edition)

I first read James Lawless when I read his work, Clearing the Tangled Wood, his work on poetry and how it effects the way we see the world. It was a nice change to read his fictional work, and get another look into his mind.

Knowing Women is a novel about a middle aged bachelor, Lawrence Jasmine Benbo (yes, Jasmine). It is the story of his life, more specifically, his love life, and how it is affected by a large lottery win.

Mr Lawless states that this novel is about knowing women, although ‘you can’t know a woman’ as Lawrence’s brother tells him. Through his life, Lawrence believes that he may know them a little. He definitely likes them, the glance of a thigh, the move of their breasts as the breathe, the curve of their lips. Knowing them even more is high on his list, although, he rarely has the courage to follow through on his desires.

The book is also about knowing women, as in women who know. Lawrence meets a beautiful Belarusian immigrant who wants nothing more than to become an Irish citizen, and is willing to pay whatever price to do so. She knows how to get what she wants. His sister-in-law also knows how to make Lawrence hand over some of the money that he won at lottery, and decides to blackmail for him an episode with her daughter that, while uncomfortable to say the least, has been blown far out of proportion.

This book challenges our ideas of sexual morality in today’s society. What is normal, what is deviant and who decides?

As usual, Mr Lawless’ command of the English language takes us deeply into the psyche of his characters.

A very thoughtful read, and one that will leave you thinking for sometime after.


4.0 out of 5 stars A Winning Story April 8, 2013
By Kim
Format:Kindle Edition
This book was well-crafted, riveting, and inspiring. I had no idea how it was going to turn out, and was pretty shaken when I came to the end, but in a good way. I was so involved in the story I felt it a shame that it came to an end. I am really looking forward to more from James Lawless. A writer with a great deal of skill with the written word.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Touching – a book that will resonate in the mind April 7, 2013
By stern0
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
James Lawless has done it again. With his newest novel “Knowing Women,” he creates an almost lyrical portrayal of poor Laurence Benbo, an Irish Lottery winner I just couldn’t put down. James Lawless has not only got inside the mind of this reader, but he has also got inside the heart. How do I know? Because the experiences of age have left me with experiences I have also experienced. In this novel you follow the main character and believe you are beside him the whole way. I heartily recommend “Knowing Women”. It exposes a Dublin few know exists. Poor Laurence was was just seeking connections in a loveless world and he got more than he bargained for, but, so did his brother. I’ve said too much already as I’ll leave it to you to find out what happens in the final twist. This is not the first book I’ve read by Lawless. He is a strong author with a flair for plot, excellent character development and a mastery of the language few writers show today.


5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended!
By Archit Ojha on December 26, 2016
Format: Paperback

Knowing Women by James Lawless is an addiction! I’m serious!

A perfect kind of classic novel I was looking for!

Laurence J Benbo, a graphic designer by profession, a protagonist who would stay with you for the rest of your life, is someone you should definitely be involved with.

His reserved mannerism when it comes to women, is to leave you enticed. His

Time changes and it changes very quickly.

For him, it all began when he saw an interesting girl smiling at him. His curiosity got over him and he figured out that this girl is a lap dancer and learning English.

He makes his innocent moves. (The way he works is adorable!) and he interacts with her.

One day, he wins a lottery. All of a sudden, his jealous brother and his family knocks at his doors.
Later, they blackmail him severely to hand over the money to them. For that, they could go to any extent.

A story of betrayal, greed and morality over the edge of loneliness and grief.

You will not realize when and how you yourself were in the skin of Laurence J Benbo, being the melancholic him, the cheerful and hopeful him.

There is no way one can prevent themselves from falling for these characters.
The elegant and refined writing style won my mind over and over.

If you’re wondering which genre this book falls under!

It’s Accessible Literary Fiction, there you go!

The author’s work is commendable and thought provoking. I remember when I was reading The Avenue, I was left contemplating about various notions in my head.

Same thing happened while I was reading this one.

My favorite scene was when Jadwiga, the Russian lap dancer says that she wants to change her yob.
Laurence corrects her that it’s not yob, it’s job!

I was cracking at this. Who would not?

This shows that the dialog and characters’ portrayal has been done superbly. They make you stick to it completely.

The author’s interview at the starting, not only provided nourishment to the story but also held my attention amply. I was musing to myself, ‘Why in the world didn’t I read this before!’

The author demonstrates his writing abilities in most cheerful, poised, tasteful, pensive and glittering manner. At the same time and with a different perspective, the story is sorrowful.

The blurb leaves you hanging in the middle.

As I was reading the story, I would again go to the back of the cover, read the blurb again and think to myself ‘ Now, this part has happened, this is the next!’ and until that point arrives, I would hold my breath, when it will pass, my amusement would keep repeating this process.

Clearly, the book is to touch the skies and go beyond it. You have my high recommendation for this one!

To end a year with a book like Knowing Women, was a terrific step.

Verdict: James Lawless is a Rockstar!

Try not becoming his fan after reading this book, you will certainly fail to do so.

Published in Goodreads and Amazon


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