Format: eBook

Love in the New Millennium by Can Xue

Posted April 26, 2019 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Love in the New Millennium by Can XueTitle: Love in the New Millennium (Goodreads)
Author: Can Xue
Translator: Annelise Finegan Wasmoen
Published: Yale University Press, November 20, 2018
Pages: 288
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: eBook

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Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019
Longlisted for the BTBA 2019

There is something about Love in the New Millennium that I was not able to connect with.  Out of the entire Man Booker International longlisted books for 2019, this is the one that I struggled the most with. It was not because of the unlikeable characters or toxic relationships, there was just something that did not work. I spent a lot of time wondering if I felt disconnected from the cultural aspects of this novel, but I have come to the conclusion that me and Can Xue do not agree, or at least with this book.

The premise of this book is basically love stories of the new millennium. It is a collection of interconnected stories that center around a few different characters. Love in the New Millennium is meant to be an exploration into modern day romance, dating and relationships, however there is nothing inherently modern about this novel. Has the author adopted same for a magical realism where modern people are living in a world void of technology? I do not remember a single mention of the internet or cell phones in the entire book. I know this a Chinese novel, so culturally things are different, but I find it hard to believe that technology does not play a part in their lives. Can Xue is 66 years old, so it felt like she did not truly understand how young people live.

“People like us, more dead than alive, always indecisive.”

Having said that, this book was packaged as a dark comical look at a group of women living in a world of constant surveillance. I went into this thinking maybe this will be an exploration into women living in a world of social media. An Orwellian look at dating in the computer age. However, this book feels more like Middlemarch in a sense that it is not the surveillance cameras that people have to worry about, it is the gossip from other people.

The main problem with Love in the New Millennium for me what probably the fact that I built this book up differently in my head. Generally I prefer not to know too much about the books I plan to read, but since this was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, as well as the BTBA, I felt like I needed to know more about this book in order to join in on the conversations before actually reading it. I was hoping for a satirical look into dating in the new millennium, as well as some insights into modern day China, but this novel delivered none of that.

“Before entering a dream, she thought, a little enviously, they must be so happy. In her dream, she heard the couple outside referring to her as “the orphan.” When she heard these two syllables, or—phan, her tears rolled down in waves, soaking the pillow. Her dreamscape was passionate, with two silvery forms always floating around her. She saw milkvetch all around, honeybees everywhere, to her right the houses of the disappearing village, and the maple leaves burning like fire.”

Having said all that, there is this weird dream-like, almost surreal quality to the novel that played a small factor in not abandoning this book completely. My main reason for sticking to the book was because it was nominated for the Man Booker International Prize. The writing was never really bad, Annelise Finegan Wasmoen did a great job of translating this into English. For me, my main verdict came down to the subject matter and my disappointment in not exploring these very important issues. There are so many different socio-political, philosophical and psychological avenues that were left unexplored.

When Can Xue is blurbed as the “most important novelist working in China today” and is also known as an avant-garde writer, I expected something more from Love in the New Millennium. She is also a literary critic who has written about Dante, Jorge Luis Borges, and Franz Kafka, so you cannot judge me for expecting so much more. Love in the New Millennium left me wanting a very different book, and I think that might have been what disappointed me the most about this novel. I have no idea why it made the longlist for both the Man Booker International Prize and the Best Translated Book Award, but clearly others see something in this book that I could not see.


The Impostor by Javier Cercas

Posted July 10, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 4 Comments

The Impostor by Javier CercasTitle: The Impostor (Goodreads)
Author: Javier Cercas
Translator: Frank Wynne
Published: MacLehose Press, 2014
Pages: 430
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: eBook

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Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018

One of the problems I faced with reading the entire Man Booker International longlist is that the judges tended to pick similar types of books. This year there was a real focus on novels that blurred the line between fiction and memoir. This means that some of the picks felt too similar. Take for example, The Imposter by Javier Cercas (translated by Frank Wynne), which I read right after reading Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Muñoz Molina which was translated by Camilo A. Ramirez. Both books seem to be a hybrid that deal with real historical events as well as the author’s life.

The Imposter is centred on Enric Marco, a man who claimed he was a prisoner in Nazi German concentration camps Mauthausen and Flossenbürg during World War II. He was awarded the Creu de Sant Jordi (one of the highest civil distinction awards) by the Catalan government, as well as writing a book about his experience. He even became the president of Spain’s leading Holocaust survivor movement. However, it was a lie, in which he responded by saying “I am an impostor, but not a fraud”. A decade later Javier Cercas is investigating Spanish history and then looks into the impact Enric Marco had on the world.

This is a look into human nature and self-deception, while a fascinating concept, this just fell flat for me. This was one of the books I was looking forward to reading on the longlist. The idea of digging yourself into such a lie fascinated me. I truly think I picked this one at the wrong time. It became a struggle to read and I am unable to tell if it was the book itself or the timing. Both The Imposter and Like a Fading Shadow just blended together completely.

I am really unsure if I will re-read this book at a future date, but it has made me rethink reading the Man Booker International longlist in the future. Ideally, I would have read a few of the books on the long list before it is announced. I am getting more and more into books in translations and I hope in 2019 when the longlist is announced I will already have some of the books crossed off. Have you had this experience before? For those who have read this one, is it just a case of bad timing? I am curious to know from others.


The White Book by Han Kang

Posted April 15, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Poetry / 6 Comments

The White Book by Han KangTitle: The White Book (Goodreads)
Author: Han Kang
Translator: Deborah Smith
Published: Portobello Books, 2017
Pages: 161
Genres: Poetry
My Copy: eBook

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Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018
Longlisted for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2018

Han Kang’s The White Book comes across as something different from this author’s Man Booker International Prize winner (The Vegetarian) but still feels very much the same. The White Book is a reflection of the colour White; part meditation, part poetry, Han Kang explores a range of connections with the colour. Weaving an autobiographical narrative, Kang is able to explore her feelings in this emotional book.

“At times my body feels like a prison, a solid, shifting island threading through the crowd. A sealed chamber carrying all the memories of the life I have lived, and the mother tongue from which they are inseparable. The more stubborn the isolation, the more vivid these unlooked-for fragments, the more oppressive their weight. So that it seems the place I flee to is not so much a city on the other side of the world as further into my own interior.”

When I think about these emotions, like grief and despair, I often then of the colour black. For Han Kang it is more “black waters shifting beneath the thick sea fog”. This fog is such an amazing metaphor, it is that looming cloud that shadows over our dark feelings. It is cold, if not chilling. The White Book, really challenged my thoughts on the colour white being warm and happy.

I like the way Han Kang was able to combine all her thoughts and emotions and associate it with the one colour. She led me on an emotional journey that was different to anything I have ever read. Yet, at the same time, it felt like her style and I cannot help but compare it to The Vegetarian. I would be interested to see if she is able to pull off something similar in the future, maybe with a different colour.

Despite the fact that I enjoyed the journey The White Book took me on, I do not think it is deserving of a place on the Man Booker International Prize shortlist. My main concern is that this blurs the line of fiction too much, this is an autobiographical meditation. While I appreciate everything it does, I wonder how it managed to meet the criteria for this prize. It is not just this book that blur the line between fiction and non-fiction, I just think this is one that is the furthest away from fiction. Having said that, this is a book that needs to be experienced rather than analysed; there is some literary merit here, but this is more an emotional journey.


The Dinner Guest by Gabriela Ybarra

Posted March 29, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 4 Comments

The Dinner Guest by Gabriela YbarraTitle: The Dinner Guest (Goodreads)
Author: Gabriela Ybarra
Translator: Natasha Wimmer
Published: Harvill Secker, 2018
Pages: 160
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: eBook

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Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018

In 1977, three terrorists broke into the home of Gabriela Ybarra’s grandfather, taking him by force. The first half of The Dinner Guest follows her research into what actually happened. This book blurs the lines between true crime and fiction to create a unique narrative. However, The Dinner Guest doesn’t stop there; the book is also centred around Gabriela Ybarra’s mother dying of cancer.

The story goes that in my family there’s an extra dinner guest at every meal. He’s invisible, but always there. He has a plate, glass, knife and fork. Every so often he appears, casts his shadow over the table, and erases one of those present.

The first to vanish was my grandfather.

I have a feeling that the judges of the Man Booker International Prize are focusing on unique narrative styles, particularly when it comes to exploring grief. Of the four books I have read so far from the long list, these have been the similarities. Whether or not we call this a memoir of grief with fictional elements or an autobiographical novel is not something that I choose to debate. However this book evokes too many similarities to War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, with the latter being a much stronger book.

It is almost impossible to talk about this book without looking it as a piece of non-fiction. The fact her grandfather was taken at gun point is wrapped throughout the narrative. The rest of The Dinner Guest is around witnessing her mother’s heath deterioration and her eventual passing. The two tragic events shapes the majority of the book. Evoking many powerful images but ultimately I never felt it really came together.

There is an idea that seemed to stick with me that never played out to my satisfaction. That was the idea of a person viewed differently, not just after their passing. For Gabriela Ybarra, her mother stopped being her mother long before her death. Her identity was stripped away and all that was left was cancer. There is a line in the book that says, “The last time I saw her, she had already stopped existing.” Even after her death, the press suddenly became interested in her.

At first I couldn’t understand why my mother’s death was of interest to the press. Then I was frustrated, because some of the reflections shared had nothing to do with the way I remembered her.

If it was not for the Man Booker International Prize longlist, I may have never have picked up The Dinner Guest. There is some interesting and notable parts within this book but the more I think about it the less I am satisfied. I love trying to read through the longlist to join in on all the conversations but you cannot expect me to like all the picks. I doubt this will make the shortlist, so instead of reading this one, may I recommend War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans which was translated by David McKay.


Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz

Posted March 28, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 4 Comments

Die, My Love by Ariana HarwiczTitle: Die, My Love (Goodreads)
Author: Ariana Harwicz
Translator: Sarah Moses, Carolina Orloff
Published: Charco Press, 2017
Pages: 128
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: eBook

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Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018

Ariana Harwicz’s book Die, My Love is the type of novel that will leave you emotionally drained. Translated from the Spanish by Sarah Moses & Carolina Orloff, this is a powerful portrayal of a woman trapped in motherhood. Having recently given birth to her second child, all she yearns for is freedom. Never have I read a novel that is so raw with emotion.

Whether or not this woman is suffering from postnatal depression or not is not something I wish to debate. I wonder if trying to diagnose her would sell this book short. She is going through so many different emotions and never holds back with her feelings. Die, My Love feels like a gut punch of emotions. A novel that is to be experienced more than analysed.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is an autobiographical novel. I cannot imagine Ariana Harwicz being able to write this without living the experience. There is an intensity in the writing that never feels fake. The conflicting emotions of yearning for freedom mixed with her motherly instincts hold the narrative together. The connection with nature stems from her constant desire to be free but also a reference to a child’s carefree nature.

“I think about how a child is a wild animal, about another person carrying your heart forever.”

The narrative that Ariana Harwicz is able to weave is so affecting; we are able to follow this vivid portrayal of a mother and experience every single emotion and thought, no matter how dark or disturbing it may be. There are many times where I feel like this protagonist is over sharing but that just adds to the raw and intense honesty. I was left in awe and have not been able to get the images from this novel out of my head. It will be a book that I will come back to again and again.

I have been going down a rabbit hole of Argentinian literature and Die, My Love seems to invoke a common style, often found in recent novellas from this great literary scene. It pleases me to see how many Argentinian women writers are getting their moment to shine and I expect to see more in the future. There is something about these books that are able to explore so much in such a short novel. For great Argentinian books by women including Die, My Love, look no further than Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez, Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin and Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac.


Made for Love by Alissa Nutting

Posted December 11, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Made for Love by Alissa NuttingTitle: Made for Love (Goodreads)
Author: Alissa Nutting
Published: Ecco, 2017
Pages: 310
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: eBook

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When you think of Alissa Nutting’s writing, what comes to mind? Dark? Disturbing? Psychological? Or transgressive? While this is what I have come to expect from Nutting, I tend to enjoy the social criticism found in her books. In her stunning debut novel Tampa, we follow Celeste Price, a young beautiful middle grade teacher who is a hebephile. Which allows for an interesting take on the nature of a sexual predator, often not associated with female sexuality. This does allow Nutting to explore the schoolboy fantasy of an older woman teaching them the ways of the flesh, whether it be a Mrs Robinson type character, a babysitter or in this case a teacher. The sexual desire of a boy with their budding sexuality; to be with an experienced, already developed older woman. Tampa looks at how developing boys are unable to separate their emotions from the sexual act and this ultimately leads to them getting hurt not, to mention the emotional and psychological damage it will do to them for years to come.

However, you could also look at it as a novel of a woman unhappy in her marriage. From the outside it looks like they are the perfect couple, he is rich, hardworking and determined but she is truly unhappy, despite what people see. Is that because of her singular sexual obsession for fourteen year old boys or is it far more? When Tampa was being published, Alissa Nutting was in the midst of getting a divorce. While Tampa explores someone unhappy in marriage, her new novel Made for Love is the next step, someone trying to escape a bad marriage.

This novel follows Hazel who has just moved back in with her father and his new girlfriend Diane (truth is, Diane is a lifelike sex doll). She has run out of her marriage with Byron Gogol, the tech mogul and founder of Gogol Industries. Hazel is willing to give up the high life to just be free, but is she ever truly free? She ran because Byron planned to make her the subject of the first-ever human “mind-meld”, he will be able to see everything she does or thinks. Hazel on the other hand will not have the same level of access, he is a CEO and needs to protect his company.

I often look for the autobiographical elements in a book, I find it gives me a deeper understanding to both the novel and the author. This is why I often like to read a biography on some of my favourite authors. While I do not know much about Alissa Nutting’s personal life, knowing she went through a separation while writing Tampa really added an extra layer to the novel. Following up with a book similar to Made for Love, reveals even more. It suggests that there was more than just an unhappy marriage.

While there are plenty of novels about women living in a controlling relationship, I think Made for Love was the first one that ever made me feel the anxiety of trying to escape. In an age of social media and technology, it has increasingly become easier to track and monitor someone. Social media allows us to read about their thoughts with the world, and with an app like ‘Find My Friends’ I can tell you where my wife is right now. Privacy is becoming a distant memory and for Hazel, even her thoughts are not safe.

Yet again, on the surface their marriage appears to be a happy one, not even Hazel’s father understands why she would leave and give up on a life of luxury. Made for Love reminds me of Black Mirror in the way it explores technology in relationships and the disturbing reality of what it would be like to try to escape and abusive one. The way people value wealth and status over the emotional wellbeing. This is a biting satire and is what I have come to expect from Alissa Nutting, I eagerly await her next book.

This review was originally published in the literary journal The Literati


Mini Reviews; Crime Edition

Posted January 13, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime, Thriller / 14 Comments

I do not know if it is the fact that I have had some big months recently or that I associate violence with the holiday period but I have felt the need to read crime fiction lately. I think after a recent review of Dexter is Dead, I have been searching from a new crime series, and hopefully I will find one soon. As crime novels are hard to review without spoilers I thought I will combine them into a mini-review.

Mini Reviews; Crime EditionTitle: Vanishing Games (Goodreads)
Author: Roger Hobbs
Series: Ghostman #2
Published: Knopf Doubleday, 2015
Pages: 304
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: Library Book

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Jack the Ghostman is backed, this time his mentor, Angela needs his help. After a heist to steal some uncut sapphires worth millions of dollars goes wrong, Angela finds herself in trouble. An unknown crime organisation seems to be after her and she is stuck in Macau without any help. She turned to her protégé in the hope to get back the sapphires and get out alive.

I remember Ghostman to be a fun, fast paced heist novel so when book two, Vanishing Games was released, I knew I would eventually read it. What worked really well in the book was the setting; Macau becomes this mysterious city full of uncertainty. A sovereign state of China, Macau is one of the richest countries in the world, thanks to housing the largest gambling district. A tourist attraction for high rollers, but still housing a seedy underbelly. I had a lot of fun with this book, it was fun and action packed, but still a typical heist novel which is not a bad thing


Mini Reviews; Crime EditionTitle: In the Woods (Goodreads)
Author: Tana French
Series: Dublin Murder Squad #1
Narrator: John McCormack
Published: Viking, 2007
Pages: 429
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Audiobook

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I have been recommended the Dublin Murder Squad by Tana French multiple times, not sure why. So I finally decided to pick up the first book In the Woods, which tells the story of Detective Rob Ryan and Detective Cassie Maddox assigned to the murder of a twelve year old girl. More than twenty years ago Ryan and two friends got lost in the same woods. He returned, but what happened to his friends remains a mystery.

This was a fresh and dark psychological suspense, which I enjoyed far more than I expected. My problem with best-seller crime novels is they tend to be very formulaic and unoriginal. Tana French managed to keep the same format but still made the book stand out. I think the chemistry between Ryan and Maddox played a big part of this. I was shipping the two and hoping they will end up together. I hear this series follows different characters in the Dublin murder squad which I am worried about, I want more from these two characters.


Mini Reviews; Crime EditionTitle: Villain (Goodreads)
Author: Shūichi Yoshida
Translator: Philip Gabriel
Published: Vintage, 2011
Pages: 295
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Library Book

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One morning in January 2006, the body of a female insurance saleswoman, Yoshino was found dead on Mitsue Pass. A young construction worker, Yuichi is arrested for her murder. Shifting perspectives, Villain tells the story of the events leading up to Yoshino’s murder and the aftermaths.

Kosaku Yoshida is often considered as one of Japan’s best crime writers and as a fan of Japanese Lit, I knew I had to check one of his books out. However I was a little disappointed; the story was interesting but I was not a fan of the execution. I thought it builds up the suspense, then shifts perspective; which felt like it kept stopping and starting and that just felt too clunky. Yoshida explores the idea of alienation, which seems to be a common theme in Japanese fiction. This worked well, however this was not enough to redeem the novel for me.


Mini Reviews; Crime EditionTitle: Hit Man (Goodreads)
Author: Lawrence Block
Series: Keller #1
Published: Harper Collins, 2002
Pages: 342
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: eBook

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Lawrence Block is a hard working pulp crime novelist, best known for his hard-boiled detective Matthew Scudder, gentleman thief Bernie Rhodenbarr and hit man John Keller. Hit Man is the first book in the Keller series, combining a collection of short stories to develop this character. This is an interesting technique and Block’s short story book One Night Stands and Lost Weekends remains one of my favourite crime collections. He manages to pack the same punch of a normal pulp novel into a stripped down story.

I enjoy Lawrence Block’s style; it is nice to know someone is trying to keep the pulp crime genre alive. However Hit Man is more of a thriller series, which develops the complexities of this character with short intervals for an assassination. I like the way the stories interlock as a way to introduce John Keller, I have never seen this technique and think it worked well. Having said that, I think this is a fun book but I am not sure if I will continue the series. I am looking for something darker and do not think the Keller series will give me what I desire.


Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

Posted December 18, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 2 Comments

Howards End is on the Landing by Susan HillTitle: Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home (Goodreads)
Author: Susan Hill
Published: Profile, 2009
Pages: 244
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: eBook

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While searching for a specific book from her library, Susan Hill discovered that the book was not where she thought it would be. However she did discover many books that she had not read, or deserved a re-read. This inspired a new reading project, to spend the next year dipping into her own library and read the books she has forsaken. Howards End is on the Landing not necessarily charts her reading but more Susan Hill’s opinions on literature and the bookish world.

First thing you discover is that Susan Hill’s house is full of books, not sorted and no order. She had to search for the book she was looking for, expecting it in the one place but not finding it. I love having my library like this, I recently had to look for my copy of Anna Karenina and I just loved looking at all my books and remembering the stories and memories that go with each one. This is the basic premise of this memoir; Hill goes through her bookshelves and shares memories and thoughts she has about the state of literature.

Susan Hill goes on talking about her thoughts on being an author, the publishing world, self-publishing, libraries, bookshelves, re-reading and even the joys of reading slowly. I have recently discovered the joys of re-reading and reading slowly so on so many thoughts, Hall and I were on the same page. Even though we come from different lives, it was such a joy reading a book devoted to her memories of all the books that sit on her shelves, and scattered across her house.

I have tried to spend a year not buying any new books, in the hopes to read more of the books on my shelves. It did not work. I did however discover how great the library is and started using my local library more. I also discovered how easy it is to get books without having to spend money, especially ARCs. The book buying ban did not work, I still have shelves full of books I still need to read. I know my taste in literature has drastically changed, and I am not sure if I should cull some of these books even if I have never read them.

The end of Howards End is on the Landing talks about if she had to cut down her library to forty books, which ones she will keep. The thought of culling your library so drastically terrifies me but I did enjoy pondering which books I would keep if I did have to cull that much. Or maybe my house burnt down, which books I would rebuy to start my new collection. I know Frankenstein, Crime and Punishment, Lolita, and most of the books on my favourite’s shelf would remain. However it is not about picking favourites, more about picking the books you would like to read over and over again. Which makes for an interesting thought process.

I am interested in the topic of memoirs in association with books like what is found in Howards End is on the Landing. My memories with this memoir will be closely associated with sitting in a hospital in Nouméa as my mother-in-law passed away. It gives me mixed feelings to love a book so much in such a sad time for my family. I even read this as an eBook on my phone, an experience I do not enjoy either but it was more convenient than carrying a book around.

I found Howards End is on the Landing to be one of the better books about books out there, I am disappointed that my memories of it will be attached to such a tragic event. I found Susan Hill to be very tender towards her love of books, while remaining unafraid to express why she did not like a book. She is never dismissive of the books she did not enjoy, she just does not have the desire to read them. I think it would be a hard balance to get that balance right without sounding like a cranky reader. Howards End is on the Landing will hold a special place in my heart and I do hope others get a chance to read it.


Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille

Posted September 6, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Erotica / 4 Comments

Story of the Eye by Georges BatailleTitle: Story of the Eye (Goodreads)
Author: Georges Bataille
Translator: Dovid Bergelson, Joachim Neugroschal
Published: Penguin, 1928
Pages: 127
Genres: Erotica
My Copy: eBook

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Georges Bataille’s 1928 novella Story of the Eye has often been read for the graphic details of an increasingly inexplicable adventures of a pair of teenagers and their sexual perversions. Narrated by an unnamed male in his late teens, the book tells the story of his passionate affair with Simone, his primary partner. Throughout the book their relationship involves other people including a mentally ill sixteen year-old girl and a voyeuristic English émigré aristocrat. To say this book is risqué might actually be an understatement, but is the book really about fornication?

With a little help from French literary theorist Roland Barthes and his accompanying essay “The Metaphor of the Eye”, I quickly discovered that Story of the Eye is far more complex than I originally thought. However if you do read Georges Bataille’s introduction before the book like I did you will discover a few titbits that help decipher the surrealist nature of the novella. In this introduction Bataille talks about his love/hate relationship with his father, a man who went blind on account of neurosyphilis. He shares a memory he remembers clearly in his head of his father urinating and the vacant look in his milky eyes.

The reason this story is important to Story of the Eye is because the novella often references urination and eyes in the midst of the sexual acts. As Barthes explains in his essay, “Although Story of the Eye features a number of named characters with an account of their sex play, Bataille was by no means writing the story of Simone, Marcelle, or the narrator”. The act of sex is often accompanied with some form of violence. The eyes, milk, urine can all be seen as a reference to his memory of his father and any reference to testicles and eggs could be interpreted as metaphors to the creation of life.

While Roland Bathes goes into a far deeper analysis of the metaphors found in Story of the Eye, a slight understanding of the content changes this books topic from sexual perversions to an angry rant directed towards Bataille’s father. There are other reference found in the novella that connect to his life; for example the priest. Georges Bataille went into the seminary in the hopes of becoming a priest, however he had to drop out to find a job to support his mother, killing his dream. A topic I believe is discussed in more detail in his non-fiction book Eroticism.

I found myself being absorbed in Story of the Eye (which was translated by Joachim Neugroschel, Dovid Bergelson); although difficult to read, the symbolism really intrigued me. So much so that I had to order my own copy of the book in the hopes to re-read it soon. I read this as an ebook and I now own a physical copy which features the essays “The Pornographic Imagination” Susan Sontag and of course “The Metaphor of the Eye”. I am fascinated by the surreal erotic style of Bataille; I think he is an author I need to explore in greater details.


Belle de jour by Joseph Kessel

Posted September 4, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Erotica / 0 Comments

Belle de jour by Joseph KesselTitle: Belle de Jour (Goodreads)
Author: Joseph Kessel
Translator: Geoffrey Atheling Wagner
Published: Overlook Books, 1928
Pages: 188
My Copy: eBook

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Belle de Jour is the story of Séverine Sérizy, a beautiful young housewife married to a successful doctor. Her life is pretty great, except she feels like she cannot fulfil her sexual affinity for masochistic desires with her husband. She gets a job as a prostitute under the pseudonym Belle de Jour, only working from two to five each week day, so she can return before her husband gets home. Her job gets her involved with a young gangster named Marcel who allows her to explore all her sexual fantasies. However this relationship of thrills becomes far too much and life gets complicated for Séverine.

Most people will know the story of Belle de Jour as it also a classic piece of French cinema from 1967. Directed by Luis Buñuel and staring Catherine Deneuve, the film explores the exact same story in a richer and interesting way. Buñuel is a Spanish director who has worked on movies in Spain, Mexico and France; he is also acclaimed for his avant-garde surrealist style. I was blown away by this movie and I only saw the movie recently. The concepts of the movie kept swimming through my mind that I needed to read the book to find out more.

What I have found is that the story in the novel is very similar but the surrealist nature of the movie was not there. I did however gain a few insights into the life of Séverine Sérizy that I never picked up on. There is some interesting observations to be made between the connection in literature and fetish, especially with sexual sadism and sexual abuse. This has been a common problem found in books like Fifty Shades of Grey and other novels that deal with BDSM. It is a little sad to think this trope steams all the way to 1928 and maybe further. I think French erotica is really interesting and it is weird to think this was written so long ago.

If you have seen the movie Belle de Jour, then reading the book is not really beneficial. Joseph Kessel does not offer anything interesting and I think everything that made the movie great was all original content from the mind of Luis Buñuel. I plan to re-watch the film sometime so I can write a review of it. As for French erotica, I plan to read more and I am not sure what to read.  I think might have to read The Story of O, but I am open to more suggestions.