Author: Sébastien Japrisot
Details: (c) Éditions Denoël 1986; Pub Folio 1988; ISBN 2-07-0380343
Verdict: La passion des femmes is delightful, and both erotic and intellectually appealing.
Reasons for reading it: Japrisot wrote the novel which was made into the film A very long engagement, a book I very much enjoyed when I read it as part of an attempt to keep up my French at university.
How it came into my hands: Montreal is such a wonderful place to shop for francophone books that I would need to go back there even without wanting to see rysmiel. Yay Montreal!
La passion des femmes is just wonderful. It's sort of an anti-detective novel, where instead of characters denying that they killed the victim and the reader trying to work out which is lying, several suspects confess to killing the victim but turn out to be either deluded or mistaken (they attempted to kill him, but he miraculously survived). Anyway, each suspect's narrative is a perfect gem of characterization; I really felt as if I'd read eight complete novels, they're so dense and satisfying. At the same time, the stories are linked together beautifully and form a coherent whole which is the life-story of the philandering but basically lovable victim. The story is exciting and dramatic and builds up to a completely unexpected ending.
It's also terribly clever, playing around with all the interconnections and unreliable narrators and self-reference and playing with levels and the relationships between text and reader. But it's playful about it, never pretentious. It's doing something similar to If on a winter's night a traveller, and I would almost say it's more successful. Certainly a worthy successor to Diderot.
The other thing about lPdF is that it's almost a pillow book. Even allowing for the fact that French books tend to have more on-stage sex than thematic equivalents in English, there is a lot of sex. And it's about the best erotic writing I've encountered. It has just the perfect level of detail; it's explicit, but it never gets into the boring level of blow by blow accounts of exactly who did what with which body part. There's an amazing breadth of variety too. A lot of stuff which is very not my kink, including some fairly serious non-con, but which still works. The sex is very much a servant to the story, though, rather than the story being just a frame for the sex scenes.
The title is untranslatable, by the way; it means both A passion for women and Women's passions, which doesn't work in English. If I were translating it, I would probably call it Loving women, but apparently the official English title is the rather clunky Passion of the Women. I found the language pretty hard going in general, though definitely worth it. But my French is no longer good enough to be able to get into, say, pre-war brothel slang very easily. So I read it slowly, but it didn't hurt to savour it.
All in all, one of the most enjoyable books I've read in a good while.