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Welcome to Andy and Netty’s Reading Challenge – 2015 edition. In, er, March. But, you know, whateves …

March 12, 2015
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This is not me not reading Ulysses …

So your friendly scribes at ANRC got a little bit behind the eightball towards the end of last year (that is the correct expression, yes?), hence only just wrapping up the 2014 Challenge this week. So we decided to give ourselves a couple of months off over the summer break – which wasn’t really a break; I mean, I spent it reading Ulysses (yes, I read Ulysses, and no, it’s nothing anyone else needs to do ever. Trust me. That’s six weeks of my life I’ll never get back) and Andy probably read about 100 books in that time ‘cos that’s just the way he rolls. And, you know, that mob over at the ABC’s Book Club does it, so what’s good enough for them, yada yada yada …

So this year we’re only going to be reading 10 books. We’ve also decided to put the Side Challenge on ice for this edition, too, which is sort of a pity because Andy came up with a cracker of a theme – but it will probably return next year.

So without further ado, here’s what we’ll be reading this year:

March: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

April: Of A Boy by Sonia Hartnett

May: Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delaney

June: The New Yorker Stories by Ann Beattie

July: Atomised by Michel Houellebecq

August: Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

September: And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts

October: King Of The Badgers by Philip Hensher

November: My Struggle Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausegaard

December: The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

So, as usual, we’re not doing ourselves too many favours or cutting ourselves too much slack!

Righto – better get to it. See y’all in a couple of weeks. Still can’t believe I let Andy talk me into reading bloody Lolita …

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2014 – 18 books, three months late

March 11, 2015

Or maybe two months late. Anyway.

Any excuse for a pic of a guy with his shirt off.

Any excuse for a pic of a guy with his shirt off.

Traditionally, Netty and I have rated our year’s reads in our own way. Netty usually if not always gives you a one to 12 of our reads, which she has done once again, whereas I am a bit more slapdash. This year however, I am prepared to be slightly more decisive:

The Story of the Eye is the worst book Netty and I read this year. It may be the worst book I have ever read. Erotic? Surreal? Oh please. Just fuck off. And if you want to write about bullfights, read Hemingway first. Blah. Fuck off. Did I say that already?

The Golden Notebook is infinitely superior to The Story of the Eye. It is also, easily, the second-worst book Netty and I read this year. I can see how it must’ve been revolutionary at the time it was written, I can understand why it holds an honoured place in the feminist canon. Also, it’s a bit crap.

The poetry of Seamus Heaney and the short stories of Lydia Davis are not a bit crap. They are for the most part fine, finely crafted pieces of writing. But while some of Heaney’s poems touched me, perhaps stimulated my memories of Northern Ireland; and while some of Davis’s stories amused and engaged me; while both writers left me impressed with their talents as writers, for the most part I was left disappointedly indifferent.

Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines didn’t leave me indifferent. Songlines was good – really good. It was witty and beautifully written and moving and enlightening – although when you discover, having finished the book, that some of it is apparently fictiticous, or might be, it does sort of take the wind out of the sails a bit.

Anna Funder’s Stasiland, a real-life memorial to the devastation wrought by East Germany’s secret police, and Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, a fictitious, hard-boiled depiction of Prohibition-era America, might have more in common other than the fact that I really, really liked them both. But they didn’t quite have enough to get themselves into my top five.

Actually I have a top two. Actually i have a top one. But I do have five that were better than the other seven.

Bolano’s By Night in Chile was amazing. Jolley’s The Well was amazing. Mahfouz’s Palace Walk was amazing. To be honest I can’t give you a reason why those three fall behind O’Brien’s Irish Girls, other than the last was read most recently, while the other three were read at the beginning of the year. But from where I sit right now, with a half-empty glass of sauv blanc in my hand, O”Brien eclipses all others.

Except, obviously – like, obviously – for Mary Gaitskill. Bad Behavior may not be the best thing Netty and I have read over the past few years. In fact it almost certainly isn’t. But it is far and away the best thing I have read this year. The two collections Gaitskill has written since – Because They Wanted To and Don’t Cry – don’t quite live up to the promise of the original, but it’s a fucking sliver of a “don’t quite”. Seriously, seriously awesomely great stuff.

I can’t guarantee it, but this may be the first time our lists have bordered on inverse.

As far as Aunty Iris is concerned – not one of the books I read last year disappointed, but I can say that Under the Bell, A Severed Head and The Book and the Brotherhood are probably weaker than The Bell, The Nice and the Good and The Sea, The Sea. The Bell is probably the best of the six. Although if I read all six again this year I’d probablly have a different opinion.

And so… On to 2015. Cos we’re only three months in …

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In which Netty declares 2014 the Year of the Don – and no, I’m not talking about a leg of ham, or that rabble of a footy club that Hirdy coaches …

March 10, 2015

Last year, 2014, was a momentous year in Andy and Netty’s Reading Challenge. In addition to reading our usual 12 books, we embarked on side challenges that singled out, respectively, two of the authors who had most impressed us over the eight-year journey (at least I think it’s eight; there’s been a helluva lot of books and a fair whack of booze tipped in over those years).

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Seriously, I would marry this bloke if he wasn’t, like, almost 80 …

One of the best things I have done for myself EVER is to plunge head-first into the back catalogue of American author Don DeLillo (Andy tackled English writer Iris Murdoch, and undoubtedly he will have plenty to say about her in his post, coming to a screen near you shortly). DeLillo is a towering behemoth of modern literature, and the beauty is I’ve still got a half-dozen or so of his books to go. If you love words, plots, themes, characters, and just bloody fan-fucking-tastic writing, well, you know what to do. And do it, stat.

Regular readers of this blog know I love a list as much as Andy hates ‘em. There’s little to fault in the six DeLillos I read last year (and, er, a little bit into this year, too), but if I had to rank them (go on!), then this is how it would pan out:

  1. Underworld
  2. Mao II
  3. Libra
  4. White Noise
  5. Point Omega
  6. Americana

Americana, DeLillo’s first novel, published in 1971, is the weakest link in this bunch – albeit a very high-quality weakest link – but a fine harbinger of what was to come. The other five – spanning the period 1985 to 2012 – are mesmerising testaments to life in these mixed-up, shook-up, fucked-up times. I can’t recommend them highly enough. The only author I have loved more since Andy and I have been doing this blog is Raymond Carver. Yeah – he’s THAT good.

Back to the regular challenge, then. As Frank Sinatra (and others) once sang, it was a very good year …

1. Stasiland – ANNA FUNDER

In which an Australian writer goes to post-Wall East Germany to see what havoc the sins of the past have wreaked on its modern incarnation. Powerful, gripping, beautifully told tales of those who lived behind and beyond the Wall. Essential reading.

2. Palace Walk – NAGUIB MAHFOUZ

Volume one of Mahfouz’s magnificent trilogy traces the life and times of Egyptian patriarch al-Sayyid Ahmad and his long-suffering family from the early 20th to mid-20th century. An absolutely riveting read, especially recommended for lovers of familial sagas.

3. The Songlines – BRUCE CHATWIN

In which an Englishman goes to the red centre of Australia, fulfilling a boyhood obsession, and comes away with a far greater understanding of the heart of this land and its indigenous people than most of us “second Aussies” will ever have.

4. The Golden Notebook – DORIS LESSING

Sisters are doing it for themselves – well, most of the time, anyway. One of the essential tracts of modern feminist fiction. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but always canny, comely, and compelling.

5. New Selected Poems 1966-1987 – SEAMUS HEANEY

He wasn’t a Nobel Prize winner for nothing. The late Irish poet distils the essence of his homeland into gorgeously evocative, sublimely succinct prose.

6. The Collected Stories Of – LYDIA DAVIS

An epic collection from one of America’s finer short story writers. When she is on song and en pointe – and she is often – few can touch Davis for wit, insight and brevity.

7. The Well – ELIZABETH JOLLEY

The most surprising book of the bunch for me. Slightly sinister Australian gothic with more twists and turns than a carnival roller-coaster. Heady, shrewd stuff, and a rollicking good read.

8. By Night In Chile – ROBERTO BOLANO

If you can get past the fact that this novella is presented as basically one paragraph, a fascinating account of modern Chile in all its corrupt chaos. Not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination, but a rewarding one.

9. Red Harvest – DASHIELL HAMMETT

Don’t be misled by the lowly placing on this list. Absolutely nothing wrong with this cracking, eminently readable example of early-20th century hard-boiled American detective fiction.

10. Story Of The Eye – GEORGES BATAILLE

Look, I don’t mind a bit of hard-core every now and then. But preferably without chicken’s eggs and severed eyeballs, thanks all the same, Georges.

11. The Country Girls Trilogy – EDNA O’BRIEN

As I said in my original post, misery-gut-laden, woe-is-fucking me Irish chick lit. And three bloody volumes of it! Somewhere along the line I’m gonna get Andy back for that one …

12. Bad Behaviour – MARY GAITSKILL

Tedious tales from a one-trick pony. Whiny, dull, boring, and blah.

Over to you, Andy!

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In which Netty tells you why you should read DeLillo’s Underworld. Right. Now. In only slightly fewer words than the novel itself!

March 4, 2015

underworld-coverBack in 2011, Andy and I read Don DeLillo’s The Falling Man, our introduction to this towering American literary giant. In my post, I commented: “ Yeah, maybe we should have tackled Underworld …” – a reference to the weighty, award-winning and nominated tome that is perhaps the best known of DeLillo’s 16-novel career. 

Flash-forward, and here I am, four years later, fittingly closing my 2014 (yeah, yeah, I know it’s 2015, but hey – it’s a big book, OK?) ANRC DeLillo side challenge with Underworld. About which I have absolutely no qualms declaring The Great American Novel. Caps intentional. 

Seriously, guys. This book is the bomb. Quite literally, in fact, pun unintentional. For reasons that will soon become clear.   

Of the six DeLillo books I read last year – from his first, Americana, to his most recent, Point Omega, and concentrating on his mid-‘80s to mid-‘90s work – Underworld is by far the best of four exemplary works (the other three being White Noise, Libra and Mao II). The scope and breadth of this novel, set in Cold War-era America in the latter half of the 20th century, is truly breathtaking as it recounts the intertwined lives of a dozen or so main characters, including some historical figures – and the trajectory of a baseball at the epicentre of a legendary National League final. 

Its broad, overarching theme is weapons and waste. Its main character, NYC-born Nick Shay, is a waste management executive; his younger brother Matthew (Matty), a disillusioned former military man who served in Vietnam, then later helped develop nuclear arms for the US government, ends up at a non-profit research institute. The novel opens on October 3, 1951, with the National League final between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, a game won by the underdog Giants 5-4 thanks to a three-run homer known as “the shot heard round the world”. At exactly the same time, the USSR conducts an atomic test at a secret location inside its borders; FBI director J. Edgar Hoover receives the news whilst at the game with his celebrity buddies Frank Sinatra and Jackie Gleason. 

Four decades later Nick and his colleague Brian Glassic are at that Kazakhstan site, meeting with executives from Russian firm Tchaika (translated as that perennial scavenger the seagull), which trades nuclear explosions for cash, effectively destroying radioactive waste with its source material – “killing the devil”, as Nick puts it. His Russian counterpart says waste is the “devil twin, the secret history” of weapons; Nick agrees: “What we excrete comes back to haunt us,” he says. Later they tour a medical institute with jars filled with pickled malformed foetuses, then see the survivors of decades of inter-generational radioactive exposure at a regional clinic, dwarf children without limbs, eyes, with abnormal growths. Musing on the birth of the atomic bomb, knowing its aftermath, the Russian concludes: “Once they imagine in the beginning, it makes everything true. Nothing you can believe is not coming true.”

Four decades later Nick is also the owner of the baseball – which costs him $34,500 – from the Giants’ win. During the course of the novel, which is structured around a non-linear narrative that shifts across time and place, the reader follows its ownership – forming a detective-mystery-esque subplot that shifts and turns in unlikely ways, ultimately linking the various threads into a cohesive whole. Which is, in the bigger picture, an apt description of the novel itself. This is a book that relies on, and is guided by, synchronicity in all its befuddling, light-bulb ways – the ostensibly causal connections between people and places that are rooted in otherworldly relations. “Everything connects in the end, or only seems to, or seems to only because it does,” DeLillo notes. It is clever, fascinating concept that is deftly woven throughout these pages. 

The reader also learns Nick’s back story, the crux of which we know from the beginning – that he served time in juvenile detention as a 17-year-old for murder – but which is not fully explained till almost the novel’s end.  That particular section, Arrangement In Grey And Black – which covers the period (northern) fall 1951 to summer 1952 – so evocatively and beautifully details life in the Bronx that you can almost see and smell the streets. DeLillo adds wry touches that play back into the book’s main themes, such as making minor characters garbage men, et al. 

In another section, Cocksucker Blues (named after the infamous Rolling Stones film), set in NYC in the summer of 1974, the city is choking under a hot summer marred by garbage strikes. Again, DeLillo brings the redolent streets alive with his vivid portrayals ; it’s worth noting that he’s a born-and-bred New Yorker who lived there through the periods he depicts. Later, another character, self-styled garbage guerrilla Jesse Detwiler (a DeLillo invention, as far as I can ascertain) – once arrested for stealing J. Edgar Hoover’s trash – opines that cities rise on garbage, buried debris increasing through the decades, but that garbage has its own momentum and it will eventually push back. DeLillo scatters gems like these throughout the pages like big sly winks to his readers.

We are first introduced to a fiftysomething Nick in 1992. The Phoenix-based executive is driving into the Arizona desert, on a whim, after doing business in Houston, prompted by an article in Time magazine on the renowned American artist Klara Sax. As a 17-year-old Nick had a brief fling with Klara, who was then married to teacher Albert Bronzini, who taught chess to Nick’s younger brother Matthew. Now in her early 70s, Klara and her team of neophytes are working on a massive project nicknamed Long Tall Sally, involving the painting of decommissioned Cold War-era bomber jets (“We’re painting these old planes as a celebration,” she tells an interviewer, “… but how do we know for sure the crisis is really over? … is the whole thing a plot to trick the West?” One of the bombers, Long Tall Sally herself, makes an appearance much later in the novel in her original guise. And thus the circular nature of the narrative continues.

Klara becomes a recurring character throughout the book, transforming from 1950s wife-and-mother in the Bronx into toast-of-the-city painter. During the aforementioned interview, Klara recognises herself in a photograph taken at writer Truman Capote’s famous Black and White (masked) Ball in NYC in 1966; she is standing alongside J. Edgar Hoover.  In a subsequent section, Hoover, along with his (real-life) deputy Clyde Tolson, get ready for this ball; DeLillo pokes fun at the long-held rumours about the notoriously secretive Hoover and his sexuality, mischievously describing the FBI boss’s delight at his custom-made leather mask with its S+M undertones, and recounting how he tilts mirrors in adjoining rooms so he can watch his friend Tolson dress and undress.

I could go on and on, but that would only make this post about as long as the book itself (827 pages, in case you were wondering). But I’ll make my summation short. 

Underworld is a masterpiece. You should read it. No – you must read it. It is fucking brilliant.

That is all.

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The Book and the Brotherhood – Andy rounds out a year of Iris Murdoch … two months late

February 24, 2015

It’s just as well Netty and I have decided to scale the Reading Challenge back a bit for 2015 (more of that in a week or two), otherwise you’d be reading about the last of this year’s books sometime in 2024. We derailed a little towards the end of last year, and it’s kind of embarrassing that we’re finally getting around to wrapping up 2014 in the last week of February. Actually, the first week of March, more like, once we’re done.

bookbrotherhoodI finished The Book and the Brotherhood in December, so will only be able to give my thoughts in fairly broad brushstrokes. Set roughly in the early ’80s it revolves around a group of middle-aged friends who met at university three or so decades earlier, as rabid, radical leftists – the “brotherhood” of the title. At some point in their youth they decide one of their number, Crimond, is such a remarkable mind that he must be paid to write a book about the future of the Left and society in general. So they form a committee, agree to donate a certain amount of money per year to support Crimond in the writing of the book so he doesn’t need to worry too much about looking after himself. Crimond then stuffs all this up by temporarily seducing the wife of one of the “brotherhood”, and then stuffs it up even more by remaining a rabid, radical leftist while his colleagues move towards, er, perhaps not quite Malcolm Turnbull’s “sensible centre”, but you get the drift. Curiously, despite the growing differences between them, they continue to support Crimond financially – even when, as the novel opens on them all in middle age (yes, that was all back story), he seduces the same woman, who is still married to the same man.

The philosophical underpinnings of The Book and the Brotherhood are, I think, similar to most of the other Murdoch books I’ve read over the past 12 months – the importance of striving to be a good, or ethical, person in a secular world, and the conundrum of figuring out exactly how the fuck it should be done. Interestingly Murdoch does not automatically associate “goodness” with the political left – this isn’t a political novel, it’s a novel in which politics plays a role and they’re not the same thing. Crimond is a “bad” person, and his radicalism feeds that “badness” – if the “badness” isn’t feeding the radicalism. He tries to set up a quite disturbing mutual suicide scenario, which fails, and then, while playing an absurd little machismo game, accidentally manages to kill someone else anyway. Iris Murdoch was very obviously no Tory, but she apparently wasn’t too fond of the far Left, either. Although as I said, this novel is not a political one, and arguably Murdoch has used communism, or Marxism, or socialism, or whatever, in the same way she’s used Christianity and Buddhism in other novels to explore her central concerns.

If there is a “good” character in The Book and the Brotherhood, it’s Jenkin, an academic (like most of the characters here) who to some extent lives on the edges of the story’s action – although not as peripherally as some of Murdoch’s other “goodies”. Jenkin lives a slightly odd, vaguely asexual, rather ascetic life, although he has his pleasures. He doesn’t see himself as good, necessarily, but to the reader there is a clarity to him that many others in the novel lack. In fact many of the other characters are far more interested in getting through life, never mind high falutin’ philosophical considerations, and there’s nothing wrong with that – although Gerard, arguably the novel’s main protagonist, is sometimes cavalier with the lives of others, exploiting them in hopes of bringing about what he thinks might be the greater good. In that he may have something inadvertently in common with Crimond’s politics – politics that Gerard consciously rejects.

I enjoyed The Book and the Brotherhood a lot, in some ways more than some of the other books by Murdoch I’ve read. But ultimately I think it’s probably the weakest (of the books I’ve read, not Murdoch generally, since I haven’t read her exhaustively). It was apparently one of her favourites, and perhaps as she was pulling it together she allowed her affection for the material to cloud her better judgment. Perhaps also, by the mid-’80s, she was such a successful writer that no editor dared stand up to her (there are some elements, though fewer, of this in The Sea, The Sea, too). The Book and the Brotherhood is flabby. It needs a good edit. There are probably a couple of sub-plots the novel could do without and there are certainly at least two characters who should have been jettisoned – whatever they have to say or do that is essential could easily have been divvied up among the many, many other characters here.

Still, the frenetic Dickensian narrative drive is immensely involving, and what with dead gay lovers and unrequited passion and family skeletons and suburban squalor and sibling rivalries and anorexia nervosa and parrots and ice-skating and dancing and guns and cars and Guy Fawkes Nights and – yes, I’m pretty sure there is a kitchen sink in there somewhere, too. The Book and the Brotherhood is not great, in the way other novels by Iris Murdoch are. But it is fun and mostly gripping and rather thought provoking, and you could do a hell of a lot worse.

Oh! And there’s a whole chunk of it set in Ireland! You’d love it, Netty.

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Story of the Eye – Andy was never that fond of eggs anyway

February 3, 2015

If I have to eat them, scrambled would be my preference. Thankfully Bataille never goes there.

story-of-the-eyeAs Netty says, this was my suggestion, and as she also suggests, no, in hindsight, I have no idea why. It’s supposed to be an erotic classic. It’s not. And despite its extreme sexual nature, I’m not sure it even deserves to be classed as erotica. When it was originally published, as far as I can tell, it was considered surrealist, not erotic, and I think that’s a better way to think of it – a work of literary surrealism, strongly influenced (as many early 20th-century surrealists were) by Freud’s exploration and attempted explanations of human sexuality. Eggs, eyes, testicles – they’re kind of all the same shape, aren’t they, so let’s throw them into a story. With wee. Lots of wee. And some teenage sado-masochism, sort of, And a bit more wee. And a cardboard-cutout upper-class Englishman who’s actually a bit of a repressed pervert. Wait, was there a tautology there?

And a wardrobe. Let’s have a wardrobe. And more wee.

I agree with Netty on many things about this book, but I disagree with her on a few as well. Bataille is not as good a writer as Anais Nin. He’s not even as good a writer as Henry Miller, when Miller’s at his best. Bataille is a pretty terrible writer, hamstrung in the 1920s by his obsessions with surrealism and Freudian psychology, looking back on a few things he remembers from when he was a kid and then reinterpreting them through a pretty seriously fucked-up kaleidoscope.

Bataille, obviously, quite liked being wizzed on by women. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Bully for him. Maybe he quite liked eggs, as well. I don’t know. It’s just a pity that his talents didn’t allow him the opportunity to combine his sexual and surrealist and psychological obsessions in a coherent, compulsive narrative. Story of the Eye is kind of terrible. Except, ironically, once it gets to Spain – those chapters that Netty hated I loved. Raped, slaughtered, disfigured Catholic priest? Awesome stuff.

Although OK, I did kinda feel for the bullfighter.

I have no idea what else to say about this book, resulting in one of my shortest posts ever.

NB: Our thoughts on Anais Nin were initially published on another website, a website that went out of business about 18 months into the Reading Challenge. We managed to get the first 12 months of the Challenge up, and had the first six months of 2009 saved to our hard drives at some point or other; sadly, however, I suspect that our thoughts on Nin (and Paul Auster, and at least four others) are lost for ever. Bollocks.

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In which Netty reads some ridiculously perverted French filth and as a result develops an intense aversion to boiled eggs …

January 30, 2015

WARNING: This blog entry contains explicit content. And no, that’s not just a ploy to get you to read it!

sote-coverUnable to find a copy of Georges Bataille’s The Story Of The Eye at my local bookstore, I approached the information counter. The eyes of the nerdy-looking, bespectacled twentysomething lit up like a Christmas tree when I told him what I wanted. “Oh yes, we’ve definitely got that in stock,” he gushed, “I’ll show you.” And indeed he did – turns out I’d misspelled Bataille’s name and was looking in the wrong place. “All his titles are back in print,” nerdy boy continued, a little breathlessly, “I can order in anything you want.”

At the time I thought the gleam in his eye (no pun intended) was ever so slightly … odd. Now, having read Bataille’s novella – a mere slip of a thing at 67 pages, not counting an accompanying chapter that entails the author’s raison d’etre for writing it, its original preface and outline for a sequel, not to mention essays by Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes, respectively – I get it. Oh, I get it all right. And possibly I will be avoiding said bookstore – and said nerdy boy – for a while …

Story Of The Eye was Andy’s selection – why, I have no idea. Possibly he has no idea either. I’d never heard of either Bataille or his book/s. If you’re similarly uninitiated, here’s the lowdown. He was an early 20th-century French author and essayist who gained a great deal of notoriety for this, um, erotic classic; his first novel, published in 1928 under the pseudonym Lord Auch.

We’ve read very little erotica in the history of ANRC – perhaps just Anais Nin’s Delta Of Venus and Henry Miller’s Tropic Of Cancer. I was dismissive of the former – mere, meandering diaries that somewhere found their way into print (sorry, I can’t find the original link) – and downright scathing of the latter – a misogynist heap of shit that is probably the worst thing I’ve ever read. I reckon Bataille is a better writer than Nin and a much, much better one than her former lover Miller – but this does not mean I’ll be reading any more of his work. Sorry, nerdy boy.

I’m usually quite careful regarding spoilers – unlike my far more cavalier fellow ANRC-er – but I’m throwing all caution to the wind here. Hell, it’s only a few dozen pages – and it’ll take you maybe an hour and a half to digest. Possibly you might want to eat a bit before you dip in because you probably won’t want for quite some time afterwards – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Story Of The Eye traces the relationship between its unnamed (French) narrator, a 15-year-old boy, and Simone, who’s the same age, and a distant relative. They meet one summer in a beach town, and the horny little buggers are at it before the first page is done and dusted. The novella is basically a summation of their extraordinarily perverted fuckfest, which, by the fourth page, has extended into a ménage a trois with their friend, the slightly gullible, slightly disturbed Marcelle.

It all blows up very quickly, thanks mainly to a party that turns into a full-blown, champagne-fuelled, depraved teen orgy, which is busted up by the kids’ parents and then the local constabulary. The ensuing scandal sees the narrator move in with Simone and her hapless mother, while Marcelle’s parents have their helpless daughter admitted to a sanatorium.

The narrator and Simone eventually break Marcelle out of the asylum, only for the mentally fragile girl to hang herself. At which point the pair, with the help of wealthy Englishman Sir Edmund – who has an unhealthy interest in Simone – decamp to Spain to escape the ensuing police investigation. There, they have a lot of sex, attend a bullfight and then, at the climax (no pun intended) of the book, wind up in a Seville church where all hell breaks loose (pun definitely intended).

Now, I’m no prude, but what starts out as a mildly titillating tale rapidly descends into a no-holds-barred account of depraved sex with an extremely heavy fixation with bodily fluids. The Spanish chapters are extremely difficult to read, particularly if you’re a bit on the squeamish side when it comes to golden showers, involuntary vomiting, bloodletting, and using body parts of dead animals and people as masturbatory devices.

The book’s title comes from Simone’s sexual obsession with eggs and eyes – which she sees as one and the same. She cracks raw eggs in her arse, places them in the toilet bowl so she can pee on them (and then make the narrator fish them out of said bowl to eat); freewheelingly inserts them into her vagina at any given opportunity. During the bullfight, she orders a dead bull’s balls, peeled, presented to her on a plate – which she then uses to publicly self-pleasure as a matador is gored to death before the crowd. Later, at the church, she rapes a priest, chokes him to death, then orders Sir Edmund to gouge out his eye before – yep, you guessed it.

I mean, geez.

Looking for positives, there are three things I can say in the novella’s favour. Firstly, it is undeniably well-written. Secondly, I suppose kudos of some kind has to be given to Bataille for making the main female character of his book the driving force behind its many and varied perversities. In comparison, the narrator – and Marcelle, and Sir Edmund – come across as unwitting, yet willing, accomplices in Simone’s psychologically complex game, her utterly depraved sexual peccadillos and atrocities. Thirdly, it’s short. Mercifully so. If there’d been more chapters after the church scene, I seriously doubt I would have been reading ‘em.

They say one man’s meat is another man’s poisson – and as for me, well, I’m a vegetarian. Who may never be able to eat eggs again. Thanks for that, Bataille. Yeah, thanks a lot. And a word of advice to nerdy boy – you’ll do a lot better with the ladies if you stop recommending Bataille to them. You’re welcome.

Geez …

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