okay so i am actually going to write a review for this now, so all you people who voted for the BLURB on the back of the book might want to revisit this and make sure you still like what i’m saying here. because it might get unsavory.
“If love is wanting what’s best for the other person—and romance is wanting the other person—then this is the ultimate romance novel. It should be a warning to men: when women lack a sense of self, everyone is in danger.” – Gloria Steinem
okay, i am rereading this right now.
this book is still great, many years after i read it for the first time.
let’s face it—you see the name of the book, you see what shelf i have slapped it on—it isn’t too big of a surprise to announce flat-out that this is a book about cannibalism. specifically, cannibalism of one’s love-object.
the book itself addresses bloodstains and death and the deceased lover on page 4, and cannibalism specifically on page 19. these are not spoilers.
this is a story of obsessive love taken to the utmost, and turned into sacrament, into the appropriation of the entirety of the beloved. and it is a flat-out jaw-dropper.
Sometimes I wish there had been some insurmountable technical obstacle to stop us from drowning in each other. We were like two desperate, surrounded terrorists, barricaded inside an isolated house and determined not to fall into the hands of the authorities alive. In the end they shoot each other in the mouth. This destructive energy, with which we isolated and absorbed each other, had emerged at our very first encounter, an energy on which we both fed and which could only grow and become increasingly insatiable.
how is it that marguerite duras is the reigning queen of the cerebral erotic and this lady can’t even get her book to stay in print? it is completely unfair. to me, this is the height of eroticism, this fills in the holes duras seems to stubbornly insert between her characters with her porous prose. this is the ideal love story for a nineteen-year-old girl obsessed and hell-bent on self-destruction.
the character in this is not nineteen, but twenty-nine, but when i was nineteen or twenty-one and hell-bent on becoming my lover, to close us off from the rest of the world and just live inside each other, this was the book that spoke to me.
but i have to disagree with ms. steinem with the blurb that i chose to reprint here. upon reading this book again, i don’t know how this character can be said to “lack a sense of self.” she is a relatively successful woman—with a published book of poetry (although two unpublished), she has left her native poland to come to new york to work on her doctorate, she has successfully obtained men she has wanted and refused men she has not. this is no puppet. and as for the final act—it is she herself who makes this choice, a decision he has been judged by her to be too weak himself to make.
she has a very strong sense of self. and her self is hungry.
on the one hand, yes:
All my desires were directed toward, subordinated to, the one desire to be with him, to be together forever. Two naked, smooth souls which at one moment would completely dissolve and become one. I felt that not a single part of me had autonomy any more. I was without weight, without substance, as if I had been sucked empty. I depended on him, on his desire, touch, chance smile, on the warmth deposited in the small recesses between us. I knew that I did not exist without him.
and yet, if anything, jose is the one without a sense of self. he is married, away from his pregnant wife and child in brazil on a research grant in new york to continue his research into, what else?—cannibalism. although he is not given a voice between these covers, he seems to be pulled between the two women, rarely making any firm declarations or decisions. he is acted upon time and again. he loves, he is beloved, but his resolve is weak. eventually, he slips into complete stasis, as his time in new york runs out and he will have to go back home to his family. he retreats, he does not act.
and then all decisions are taken away from him.
is his infatuation as deep as her own? is she just a fling to him? she always says “we” when she talks of their love, but does his love run as deeply as hers?
To think about the future implied life without Jose, and as soon as we met that had seemed absolutely pointless. We could not continue to live apart. We had both been aware of this sentence almost from the beginning, although we had not fully understood what it meant. In entering this apartment, we were both entering another life. Our previous lives suddenly turned into the distant past which occasionally upset us, bothered us and dragged us down towards some kind of invisible abyss.
the infatuation appears to be mutual, but we are only given half the story.
this is a story of two lovers who came together by circumstance in a country not their own, without a common language. all their interactions are in english, a “borrowed language,” their backgrounds so untranslatable. in this arena, their bodies become their mutual mode of expression.
I laughed and said I had never seen the jungle, except in movies, and that it seemed menacing enough on the screen, like some sort of huge man-eating organism. He consoled me by saying he had never seen snow except in the movies. The dirty slush of New York had been his first experience of it and there was no way I could conjure up for him the crisp snow on a mountain slope, a window caked with hoar-frost or a frozen forest. But it did not console me. When he mentioned a river, I would imagine a green or lead grey surface of water. To which he would respond that rivers are yellow or green like emeralds, and for a moment, it was a game. If only we had the time, perhaps we could have overcome this rootedness in separate languages. I think it can be done. But then he would have been somebody else, and ours would have been some other relationship. Perhaps the inadequacy of words and our fear of losing our way in the labyrinth of language, our fear of misunderstanding, actually fed our mutual hunger for the body.
their lack of a shared language causes jealousy:
…in those few moments my fear grew into hate, into the strong silk thread of hate. I saw myself tightening that thread around her throat, which was spilling out words for the last time, the bewitching unknown Portuguese words which were forming an impenetrable circle around Jose.
but they always come back to each other through the bonds of food and sex, the two frequently paired.
so you see, there was no choice.
this is an utterly gorgeous story of obsession and the drive to keep one’s beloved close, to actually internalize the lover inside oneself.
however: View Spoiler »what a fucking waste, right?? the only parts of him she actually eats are his fingertips and some arm-flesh?? there were practical reasons, sure, but come on, girl—starving children in africa and all that—finish your meal! « Hide Spoiler
i mean, obviously i have given a lot of the story away, but i maintain that these are things evident from the outset, and the joy of reading this book is her sparkling prose and the journey the character takes, not the destination.
seriously—find it and read it.
it is (do i dare??) delicious.