Friday, February 14, 2014

Review Me Twice: Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

I am not sure if I've mentioned (probably), but if I had to pick a favorite book of all time, this book would probably be it.  Which, considering how many books are out there, probably makes you wonder why this is book is so special.

This book was written in the late 1700s, when sex was incredibly taboo and people never talked about it, let alone do things like enjoy it.  But Laclos not only writes about sex, but a woman enjoy it!  WHAT?!  World must be coming to an end.  And Merteuil and Valmont's characters are just so spectacularly done.  I mean, the mass amounts of manipulation that goes on in this book, and the lengths Merteuil goes to make sure it could never come back to her and ruin her reputation.

For instance, Cecile is to marry a guy that once left Merteuil before Merteuil wanted him to.  So, instead of getting her revenge on Gercourt (the guy), she decides to ruin Cecile's reputation and then expose it after the wedding to shame Gercourt, never mind that she's ruining the life of an innocent girl.

Valmont isn't any better.  He's trying to convince a very pious and monogamous married woman to have sex with him.  The whole book.  That's all he does.  I know, it sounds like a terrible book.  I mean, it's about two people ruining everyone's reputations!

But I love that it's all about the reputation.  Merteuil couldn't do what she does, manipulate like she does, without her good reputation and Valmont couldn't seduce so many women without his bad one.  The two of them, scheming together, it's just the best thing to watch.

There's so much more about this book I love (the fight between Merteuil and Valmont, the constant double speech that goes on in letters, the fact that Merteuil and Valmont always have to win, and the book is really about the battle for power between them), but I don't want to give away the book.  Just know that it's written in the most spectacular way and I love it more every time I pick it up.

I am not a big fan of this book, but not for reasons that should influence you not to read it, unless you're like me in certain ways. What do I mean?

I don't like epistolary novels. For all that I described them in a fair light yesterday, they aren't my favorite thing. I made attempts at writing them a while back, because it seems like an easy way to keep track of what's going on while I'm writing, but I don't like reading them. Actually, I take that back; I like monologic (one-person) epistolary novels, like a one-sided letter conversation or diary entries. I don't know why; this is just my preference. (Though, as Cassy pointed out to me earlier this week, these make for good "lunchtime reads," because it's easy to find a stopping point.)

I don't like reading about the court (as in, fancy people with nothing better to do than play complex social games with each other). I think this has to do with the fact that I don't put up with anything even resembling complex social games in my own life, and I don't find it amusing to hear about other people dealing with them. It's just not my thing. But I do see how it makes for a good story.

And finally, I am a minimalist. Full disclosure: I didn't finish the book. I read what remained of a summary to finish the story for myself, and I quite enjoyed the summary. It was succinct. I know that wasn't the goal of writers for a very, very large part of the history of literature (and some authors aren't aiming for succinct today, either... I'm looking at you, Stephen King) but I prefer short stories and novellas. It's part of why I love YA fiction; they can tell you a story succinctly.

But after all that, I admit that I can see why Cassy loves this book. She does like epistolary novels and she does like reading about courtesans and the like, and she doesn't mind when a book takes the time for details and language instead of driving the plot forward like it has somewhere to be later and it hasn't had time to do its hair. The characters are so developed; if you know terrible people like them, it's probably like reading about the people you know, because they seem real. (I think that's another benefit of epistolary novels; it's like getting the behind-the-scenes information of first-person narration without the awkwardness of actual first-person narration.)

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