“How characteristic of your perverse heart that longs only for what happens to be out of reach.”
Back when I was in college (far more years ago than I feel inclined to admit), I thought I was devastatingly cool. The reason for this was that I always carried around various battered, dog-eared copies of 18th century French novels in my tote bag (which was itself covered with badges depicting band logos). No one ever asked me about the books of course, and I’m not sure I ever even opened them at college – I always read them at home – but regardless, I thought I was terribly exotic.
Not many of these books have stayed in my memory, other than some by Zola (which will feature another day) and Les Liaisons Dangereuses. I remember the utter shock that my naive, seventeen year old self felt the first time I read it. The book was banned in many countries for centuries in some cases, and I could see why! The novel is just SCANDALOUS. There is no other word which fits quite so well.
We follow the extremely rich and extremely bored Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont initially using one another as play things to occupy themselves, before drawing others into their dangerous games. Many people have discussed the moral message Choderlos de Laclos wanted to portray through this novel. I think there is none – he wanted the notoriety of publishing a book which would outrage and disgust as many people as possible.
And I loved it. It feels like the guiltiest of pleasures. It is so easy to be drawn into the Marquise and Vicomte’s games, rooting for one or the other.
What helps is the fact it is so beautifully written. Written in an epistle style, each character has their own, very distinctive voice.
Just as with my review of American Psycho, this novel has a famous and popular film based on it. If you enjoyed the film, please – read the book!