W hen George Orwell wrote to defend Henry Miller in his essay "Inside the Whale", he noted that when approaching an "unprintable" for his times book, "either one is shocked and disgusted, or one is morbidly thrilled, or one is determined above all else not to be impressed. So I found myself somewhat discomfited when, on the tube, I took out this book and started reading. It is in diary form, recording the amorous exploits of one Lucien, an antiques shop owner who exclusively prefers to have sex with the dead sex and age immaterial, we learn. The book begins with his description of a dead young girl with "the sly, ironic smile of those who know a lot". The next day "the little girl played a mean trick on me. While I was sliding into that flesh so soft, so cold, so deliciously tight, the child abruptly opened an eye, translucent like that of an octopus.
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Readers would be well advised to don a Hazmat suit before wading into the thrilling, pestilential world of French writer Gabrielle Wittkop. Wittkop was born in Nantes in and home-schooled by her father, devouring the books in his extensive library.
Hoffmann , about whom she wrote a biography. While living in Paris during the Occupation, she harbored and then married a deserter from the German Army, the bisexual Justus Franz Wittkop. The Necrophiliac is ultimately about the intoxication and isolation of genuine connoisseurship. The smell of the dead is that of the return to the cosmos, that of the sublime alchemy.
For nothing is as flawless as a corpse, and it becomes more and more so as time passes, until the final purity of this large ivory doll with its mute smile and its perpetually spread legs that is in each one of us. Insect humors travel through the veins of the bark; liquefied, the reptile is reborn in the fetid pulp of fungus; the feather becomes leaf; the flower changes into a scale; eggs and soft roe burst into living myriads; death embraces resurrection, the two of them twinned like day and night.
However, her decadent style is not without its flaws. Of a casino in Monte Carlo, she writes:. Contrast this architecture porn with an enticing, restrained, and more representative passage from another story, this one describing the spiraling staircase of a donjon that is. It was, in short, as staircases admittedly are, destined to all kinds of betrayal. Wittkop comes alive when she injects an element of sardonic sadism into her observations, the sense that there is enjoyment to be had at watching the dissolution natural or violent of a body.
Her intense focus on the death throes of her protagonists, and on the post-mortem decomposition of their corpses, could be interpreted as a curious quest for self-knowledge. Set in 18th-century Venice, Murder Most Serene is a novella concerning the not-so-gentle art of poisoning.
Poison is usually involved, or suspected in each case; when one of the curtailed marriages produces a deformed child, the unfortunate offspring is dispatched with less finesse. Murder Most Serene , in other words, is mostly local color, concerned with effects rather than causes. Their effects are played out in color: suddenly, we see a sky-blue iris turn the rich purple of the abattoir; a camellia complexion takes on a tint of bluish mauve, coral-pink lips turn to coral-black, which is infinitely more precious, as everyone knows.
As with precious jewelry, so with poison: refinement is king. Again, a rire diabolique is usually audible in the background, a derisory chorus here comprised of monkeys, rats, crows, and grotesque statues.
Straightforward Oedipal drama and fairy-tale villainy reign. The tales are less psychological than physiological; how a character thinks matters less than how a body moves, or perishes. Wittkop is an anatomizing narrator.
Seymour M. Kenneth had a slight paunch. Not much, in fact, a small deposit of fat evenly distributed over the flabby musculature of his abdomen, a pad just visible when Seymour was naked, but only then, an adiposity giving way to the pressure of a finger that would sink in no deeper than a few millimeters, in short, a concession.
Had one been given the task to examine it…this paunch might have represented an avowal rather than a failure or a deficiency. One might have seen in it the symbol of a formless destiny, a propensity, to spinelessness. In fact, the hapless character does properly fulfill his lifelong, if not particularly ambitious, dream, which is to return to the womb.
In spite of its repetitions the spectacle is not as monotonous as one might fear. A certain duration of this pleasure can also be expected, seventeen being the age of great battles when one, even though deprived of both water and food, does not die quietly like a lamp that goes out for lack of fuel. His exemplary departure is narrated thusly:. Surrounded by his concubines and his Greek slaves slipping their tongues into his mouth and caressing his hair…He heard their tender words pull back towards another planet because he himself was about to leave the earth…He sensed nothingness invade the network of his veins…while the dancers stuck their vulvas to his body like barnacles onto a ship and the fingers of these ephebi explored his secret parts.
Floating into his bath as if into the maternal liquid, Gaius Petronius Arbiter sensed his life escaping him as sweetly as it had once come to him. Learn more about Matt at matthewseidel. Her ability to set that grotesque imagery in language even in translation so appealing is nothing short of a wonder. That gorgeous cadence — somehow mournful, somehow detached — lush with wicked humor underscores what was an astonishing gift, and even more well-honed craft.
Writing this good is work. Could be? For me, that aspect of her storytelling was therapeutic — perspective gained on what — for each of us — is the biggest question of them all. For me, though, it was the application of a compassionate balm to the rawest wound a soul can endure. Powerful stuff. Thank you for this exciting article. Your email address will not be published.
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This is the inside joke of creative writing programs in America. At best, it is misguided. At worst, it is fraudulent. And the review — another exceptional piece of writing on the Millions. Add Your Comment: Cancel reply Your email address will not be published. What would happen if Margaret Wise Brown's classic got the Marvel treatment?
Beautiful Deaths: On the World of Gabrielle Wittkop
By Gabrielle Wittkop. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any process — electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise — without the prior written permission of the copyright owners and ECW Press. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.
Make a tax-deductible donation today and help us continue to publish online and in print. No contribution is too small. Authors ranging from the Marquis de Sade to Edgar Allen Poe to Chuck Palahnuik have relied on similar tricks, juxtaposing the abhorrent behavior of their characters with irresistibly lovely language, daring the reader to fall under the poetic spell and into the seductive consciousness of every variety of sadist, fetishist and psychopath. Thanks to translator Don Babst, the latest English-language entry into this macabre cadre is The Necrophiliac , a slim little volume by Gabrielle Wittkop. Our view into his journal, then, is a peephole into a consciousness largely invisible to the outside world.
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The Necrophiliac by Gabrielle Wittkop – review
The Necrophiliac by Gabrielle Wittkop. Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review 's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge and remind and warn you that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure. The complete review 's Review :. The Necrophiliac is, indeed, the story of someone who defiles corpses.