Sunday, October 14, 2007

Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782)

My introduction to this came via the Glenn Close/John Malkovich Hollywood vehicle of 1988, which I enjoyed. (I understand the Milos Forman-directed version that came out a year later, Valmont, is even better, but I haven't seen it.) But only recently did I read the novel they were based on, by 18th-century France one hit wonder Choderlos de Laclos, having turned it up at a garage sale. I'm never too excited by 18th-century European novels, even less so when I discovered the epistolary nature of this one—a bunch of letters written to one another by (in my expectation) a cast of overdressed, funny talking, wooden figure characters. Once into it, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the brisk and canny plotting and by the pithy, elegant language (1961 translation by P.W.K. Stone). By the time I was halfway in I was convinced it had to be an elaborate hoax published closer to 1982 than 1782. It is heartless, sexy, unpleasant, sweeping, gorgeous, and as believable as it is deeply cynical about human nature. The Publisher's Note, Editor's Preface, and scattered footnotes throughout provide meta-meditations on the "veracity" of the unfolding events and are probably what made me think it belongs more properly to postmodern Western civ than pre-Revolutionary France. More fool me. This is a good one.

In case it's not at the library.

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