(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally. Sorry; the last paragraph today gets cut off a few sentences early!)The CCLaP 100: In which I read for the first time a hundred so-called "classics," then write reports on whether or not they deserve the labelBook #20: Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller (1934)The story in a nutshell:Like many of the other novels to first become commercial hits under the moniker of "Modernism" (see, for example, past CCLaP-100 title Mrs Dalloway from the same period), Henry Miller's infamously raunchy Tropic of Cancer from 1934 doesn't bother to concern itself much with traditional plot or a traditional three-act structure, but is rather an attempt to capture the details of a particular moment in history in as intense a way as possible, using not only humorous anecdotal tales but also the brand-new literary technique known as "stream of consciousness." And man, what a period of history to capture -- based on Miller's own experiences from half a decade before, the novel is set in Paris in the years after World War One, a time when most young people had turned permanently cynical and nihilistic, horrified as they rightly were over what exact carnage humans had proven themselves capable of, now that humans had added mechanized industry (trains, machine guns, biological weapons) to the business of war. Add to this that the US itself had still not established its own global-class artistic community (which wouldn't happen until New York's Greenwich Village after World War Two), and you're left with the situation Miller describes with such black humor here -- of entire Parisian neighborhoods become boisterous, drunken melting pots, packed to the gills with bohemians from around the world who no longer give a crap about anything, who embrace such things as casual sex and exotic drugs in a way no other generation had embraced them before, as they party their way to the apocalypse they were all sure was right around the corner. Multiply by 300 pages, and you basically have Miller's book.The argument for it being a classic:There are two basic arguments over why Tropic of Cancer should be considered a classic, starting with the book itself: It is, after all, a shining example of early Modernism, the exact kind of radical departure from the flowery Victorian style that so many young artists were embracing back then, here done in a mature and self-assured way that builds on the literary experiments of the previous twenty years, but that finally makes it palatable for the first time to the general reading audience (and by "palatable" I mean "not incomprehensible," thank you very MUCH James Freaking Joyce). As such, its fans say, the novel should be rightly celebrated for the literary masterpiece it is; one of those rare books that gets stream-of-consciousness exactly right, one of those rare books that perfectly shows the combination of arrogance and self-hatred that mixes in the warm dysfunctional heart of any true bohemian. Ah, but see, in this case there's an entirely different second reason why this should be considered a classic; because for those who don't know, thirty years after its initial publication in Europe, this was one of the landmark artistic projects of the 1960s to help finally lift the yoke of government censorship in America, one of the first projects used by the courts to help define was exactly is and isn't "obscene," adding immense fuel to the countercultural fire that was going on in this country at the same time. If it wasn't for Tropic of Cancer, fans say, we would still have the all-or-nothing paradigm of the Hays Code in the arts, instead of the "put out what you want and we'll give it a rating" paradigm of our present day; no matter what you think of the book itself, they argue, this alone is a reason to consider it a classic.The argument against:Like many of the titles in the CCLaP 100 series (see The Catcher in the Rye, for example), the main argument against Tropic of Cancer seems to be the "What Hath God Wrought" one; that is, the book itself may not be that bad, but it legitimized something that should've never been legitimized, in this case whiny confessional stream-of-consciousness rants from broke artists in their twenties living in big cities, complaining for 300 pages about how unfair life is and how all the prostitutes keep falling in love with them. Yep, it was Tropic of Cancer that started all that, critics claim; and anytime you come across yet another sad little blog about how the heart of the city beats in the weary soul of some overeducated, entitled slacker, that's one more time we should visit the grave of Miller and pee all over it, in retribution for him creating a situation where such blogs are encouraged in the first place. Again, it's not so much that people complain about the book being awful on its own (although some will definitely argue that stream-of-consciousness has always been a house of cards, difficult to make work well within a literary project); it's more that the book simply isn't great, and should've never gotten the accolades and attention it did, with Miller being damn lucky that he had as exciting a sex life as he did at the exact moment in history that he did, along with the shamelessness to write it all down.My verdict:So as will very rarely be the case here at the CCLaP 100, let me admit that this is one of the few books of the series I've actually read before; in fact, much more than that, it was one of the books I practically worshipped in my early twenties as a snotty, overeducated, oversexed artist myself, a book that had a bigger impact on both my artistic career and just how I lived my life in general back then than probably any other single project you could mention. So needless to say I was a bit biased going into this week's essay; I not only consider Tropic of Cancer a classic, but easily among the top-10 of all the books in this series, one of those books that any restless young person of any generation should immediately gravitate towards starting around their 18th or 19th birthday. And that's because Miller is so good here, so damn good, at perfectly capturing that restlessness that comes with any generation of young, dissatisfied creatives -- that sense that they want to do something important, that they should be doing something important, just that none of them know how to do that important thing, so instead let that passion seep out through their sex lives, their clothing choices, the bands they listen to, etc. Tropic of Cancer is all about yearning, all about grasping life to the fullest you possibly can, not for the sake of simply doing so but rather because this is the only way you'll ever find what you're truly seeking. Or as MIller himself puts it: "I can't get it out of my mind what a discrepancy there is between ideas and living."But that all said, let me just plainly warn you -- whoo man, is this a filthy book, with it unbelievably enough still just as able to shock and offend as when it first came out. And again, I see this as an asset and strength of Miller as an author; because ultimately it's not really the language itself that has gotten people so upset about this book over the decades (you'll hear worse in most Hollywood hard-R sex comedies), but rather that Miller embraces a prurient attitude throughout, one that plainly addresses the cold realities about sex which are not usually discussed in polite company. Just take, for example, the chapter where he compares for the reader the various young artsy prostitutes who live in his neighborhood; of how the best ones are the ones who have come to grips with the fact that they're whores and not wives or girlfriends, and therefore lustily embrace the exact disgusting acts that wives and girlfriends won't, the main reason men visit prostitutes in the first place. Yeah, not for delicate sensibilities, this one is; despite it being almost 75 years old now, you should still exercise caution before jumping into it feet-first.And then finally, re-reading it this week for the first time since college two decades ago, I've realized something else about this book; that it's not just the fun little stories of crazy sex and urban living that Miller gets right, but also the more somber reflections of perpetual poverty, of the almost existential dread that can develop when waking up in the morning and not knowing how you're going to eat that day. This is the flip-side of the crazy bohemian life, something plainly there in Tropic of Cancer but that most people don't see when first reading it, or when reading it at a young age; that to live a life rejecting middle-class conformity and embracing chaos is not just endless evenings of absinthe and oral sex, that there's a very real price to pay for rejecting all these things as well, the price of health and kids and normal relationships and any kind of slow building one could potentially do in their chosen career. Let's not ever forget that the things Miller talks about in Tropic of Cancer happened half a decade before his literary career ever really took off, years where basically none of them got anything accomplished at all except to definitively list all the kinds of books they didn't want to write; let's also never forget that Miller's life got dramatically more boring after his literary career took off, busy as he suddenly was with...you know, writing all those books. The artistic life can be...August
Seems the contemporary catch phrase to label Miller by is "Misogynist." Whatever... he wrote from his perspective and never swayed from his own vantage point to impress anyone. He is a true artist. How else would he have attracted the love interest of such an intelligent, beautiful woman as Anaiis Nin? Tropic of Cancer, to me, borders on spiritual enlightenment by way of pure honesty. I also enjoyed reading Nin's diary showing her side of their mutual lust affair. She was as much of a lost soul as he was, as well as his intellectual equal. They both survived off other people for the most part: Anaiis was married to a wealthy man and slept with him and his contemporaries as well as Miller; Miller was married to whoever would take him in and feed him (some food, but most often intellectual conversation) and slept with his friend's friend's friends, as well as a plethora of prostitutes. The bottom line is that he and Anaiis both explored their depravities through the medium of writing, creating literary works of art in the process.Michael
Tropic of Cancer is held in high regard by Authors that I respect. In particular, George Orwell (whose essay, “Inside the Whale”) has high praise for Miller's bravery, directness and honesty.Miller's foul language has lost the power to impress; modern readers will not feel the level of shock and awe experienced by previous generations. The book has so much critical adulation that I have spent a few weeks ruminating before expressing my own view.I don't like it....Oh, don't mistake me, I “get” it, I also understand that highbrow intellectual theory is bandied about in praise of the “style”. It leaves me cold.This is an excrescence of a book, but like finding a turd dotted with precious gems, if you can overcome your dislike you will be rewarded by a few flashes of brilliance.I have met parasitic characters like Tropic's “hero”; amoral, abusive, selfish, pretentious, hedonistic users beneath contempt, occasionally given to drunken introspection and momentary genius. If you run across a real life “Miller” in your travels give him a wide berth, he's just not worth it.Jeremy
The book is perhaps summed up best by one of its characters:“…I’ll lay myself down on the operating table and I’ll expose my whole guts … every goddamned thing. Has anyone ever done that before?—What the hell are you smiling at? Does it sound naïf?”It exposes. It hadn’t been done before (well, not in the same way). It is comic. It is naïf.With Henry Miller’s bizarre and incongruous existence in his time and place, there’s a kind of sense of loss, that something was lost after him, that an opportunity slipped us by. He represents a fork in the road, and it’s a fork that was never really taken. Instead, he can be easily reduced to a series of issue based identity-political dot points. Easily, that is, by those that……live among the hard facts of life, reality, as it is called. It is the reality of a swamp and they are the frogs who have nothing better to do than to croak. The more they croak the more real life becomes. The same sort of people that can look at this book, even the first thirty pages or so, even if that’s all they read and threw the mouldy paperback down in disgust and reproach, and then croak on about ‘narcissism’, about ‘dead white men’, about ‘misogyny’ about all the stinking murky depths of the swamp that they’re paddling in. So, all the croaking aside, what is Miller’s project? He takes Walt Whitman by the end of his beard and drags him along behind him through the streets of 1930s Paris and all the humanity around him, the world of men and women, and goes the full length, he starts with drums and ends with dynamite, he makes the world more endurable in his own sight, he throttles all the birds in creation, he tries to look earnest and looks pathetic, he finds himself again naked as a savage, he makes pages explode, he disregards existent principles, he contradicts and paralyzes, he makes lists of experience, he lives a life rendered down to cunts and stomachs.This is not fifty shades of fucking grey. This is not a series of banal-titillations made to feel extreme and naughty while you keep warmly rolling in the swamp, wrapped up in a bunch of ideas that’ll keep you moist enough to pass inspection. There is no comfort here, unless it is the comfort of understanding that there is no comfort. Perhaps you have to be hungry and desperate to get to that point? You have to be that to make ‘the guinea pigs squeal’. To know where to put ‘the live wire of sex’, to know……that beneath the hard carapace of indifference there is concealed the ugly gash, the wound that never heals.Is Miller above all this crap? Looking down like a Titan? If he’s part Titan, he’s also part goat. He’s below it. He’s burrowing underneath like he’s a haemorrhaging mole. You’re not meant to love him. Or like him. Or respect him. He asks for nothing from you. He doesn’t ask for you to review his book, since the book is a failure, it's not even a book, because it has to be a failure or else it fails completely; and since reviewing it is just further croaking in the every-spreading swamp of reality. Looking up a picture to slot into the coding so that someone might Like it and say, hey, yeah, nice review man, I liked that book too, lots of fucking, gave me a boner; or no, I disagree, this only got printed coz it gave guys boners and this book was a waste of my precious time when I could be reading the latest Miles Franklin shortlist from onetofive or something exceedingly more contemporary andslashor relevant, or that currently has a film version out with [insert some cunt] in it. I mean there’s only one review that counts and, bango, you start writing the book out word-for-word in all its glorious lack-of-glory and all its primal failure that then bleeds into that time when you were living at the Villa Borghese, and maybe it wasn’t lice, and maybe it wasn’t cunt, or books or dreams you were asking from life, but there was shit happening that you might not want to put down on a piece of paper, since it would certainly be inappropriate and revealing even if you shook it really hard and laughed and covered it in irony since there’s actually nothing appropriate going on down there, under the carapace, where all you might need is to have a rosebush thrust under your nose.Rajeev Singh
Less of a book and more of a hodgepodge of raves and rants from a man who couldn’t accept life as it is: this sounds a bit too scathing but bears more than an element of truth in it. Raves and rants abound but they are so unabashedly honest, so slanderously abusive, so nakedly, sordidly libertine and at times, so beautifully poetic that one feels like going back to revisit some of the passages whose gist wasn’t lucid on the first attempt but turned out to be heavily-imbued with meaning on the second and the third. The cover of the book (my copy) shows a woman in the buff with a prominent derriere, a smoulderingly-inviting come-hither look but an almost transgender expression on the half-turned face. It left me a little red-faced at the bookshop’s counter but I went ahead as boldly as Miller himself would have done when he chose to have his book out in the public domain, only to be condemned mercilessly and banned for its shock-value and violently-candid libertinism.The word ‘cunt’ is used innumerable times and the references to women – mostly whores – wouldn’t be palatable for a reader with a feministic bent of mind: such is the objectification of the female body. But if it is seen from a pure, honest libertine’s point of view (taking a cue from Marquis de Sade) – as opposed to hypocritical prudes – Miller is quite right in suggesting that a whore should be ‘a whore from the cradle’ rather than a blend of fake feminine refinement and cold detachment from a sexual act which they perform with ‘eyes staring vacantly at the ceiling’ while the man is slugging away with his machine.A whore who is vociferous, who moans and groans with abandon and spews out stuff that a patron wants to hear in such critical, pre-orgasmic moments is one who is admired by Miller for being true to her vocation. Indeed, this might be the crudest example to show it but a vocation demands total submergence of a person in it for it to have any value.It’s hard to remember the names of the women in the book – all of them come under the broad classification of ‘cunt’ – and I found their respective relationship with Miller quite confusing and non-differentiable. Tania finds mention a lot in the memoir with Miller’s jealousy at her lying down with an undeserving man.Occasionally, Miller delves into reflections and musings on life, existentialism, the human condition, nihilism, fatalism and many aspects of philosophy which I do not know the names for. Walt Whitman is held in the highest esteem while Goethe is vilified with innuendoes. Paris is both censured and praised - sometimes in the same breath – and the sullied underbelly of the city: the red-light area (inevitably), the humdrum street-existence, the poverty and hunger which stand heavily at odds with the opulent image of Paris that most people harbour, is all brought out with Miller’s nakedly-delivered wisdom.I found Miller’s metaphors and similes too mired in literary fog and often disgusting: ‘polished as a leper’s skull,’ ‘the smile of a fat worm’ and so on; but his writing is not the kind that can be understood and appreciated all at one go. Hence, the knocking and re-knocking at doors that require all your intelligence and patience to reveal what they have in store.Being a writer from the early 20th century, Miller too could not fail to be touched with Gandhi’s ideals but he chooses to refer to it with a revolting example of a fake Gandhian who is out visiting whores in Paris. The incident of his making a fool of himself is both humorous as well as stomach-wrenching but aside from the wry humour, what he says about Gandhi is true. The Indian edifice indeed stood on a tenuous foundation which was held in place by the Mahatma but as soon as the great man would exit, the opposing forces of caste, creed and colour would re-assert themselves and the society would start to implode. Quite a far-sighted assessment from a man who understood India from a distance.Miller is quite opaque at times – umpteen times actually – when his words seem to flow with reckless abandon without a cogent meaning to be derived from them. Many sections of the memoir are the prose-poem kind with a generous use of his extensive vocabulary that draws upon both street-slang and patrician eloquence in equal measure. He calumniates the so-called important people who run the world, the ‘colourless individuals’: the engineers, doctors, lawyers, money-lenders and the like. He attacks the education system which moulds young minds into a set type in order for them to melt into the bog of the teeming banality of the wasteland the world has become. His rebellion is that of a man who wouldn’t want the smallest slice of the commonplace life: he would live the way he wants to, even if it means mooching along the streets of Paris on an empty stomach while still able to get a hard-on, both a cause for celebration and an anatomical riddle to unravel.Many people would pick up the book for its sexual content as the cover itself suggests or as his entire oeuvre and his reputation indicate. Most characters in the book are sex-starved but even in their worst ramblings, they often spout profound truths for a reader who is patient and incisive. A man who wants loads of books and loads of ‘cunt’ might seem repulsive but it exposes the anguish that lies within many repressed people who are forced to eke out a dreary existence, trapped in a job they abhor. To get a bevy of cunts is their idea of both bliss and release: a libertine’s philosophy all the way but many seemingly innocent and polished people inhabiting the civilized world are great sensualists and even perverts from inside. Miller only reveals the darker side of factotums while cutting down on none of their perversions.E.
When I read this for the first time I thought the world was opening up and eating people. I wanted to get drunk and go on a hooker spree, to move to Paris and generally debauch for the rest of my 20's....Then I realized I kind of wanted to do all this anyways but with Miller's aid I could and even better I could disguise the whole thing as "literary." I struggled through Capricorn, through The Books in My Life, through a number of Miller's personal letters and musings. I even made a pilgrimage to Big Sur. Then I picked up Richard Brautigan or "Cannary Row" or something and I realized I could skip Paris. I could skip Europe entirely. I could just drink wine on a bench in my back yard, throw on an old Bill Broonzy CD and stare at the sun. I could even meet a nice girl and keep her around for a while. No need for crabs or lice or bed bugs at all. No sir, just soft northern california sunlight and grassy knolls. That was it. The dirty big city Miller hangovers were gone.....Still, for a few months there, Miller was really really doing it for me. At the time it was true life changing stuff.5 stars.Ian Paganus
This may be one of the best books in the American cannon, and also, unfortunately, one of the most underrated. I read a lot of the reviews on the book before writing this and I found not very many that were thought out. I recall one reviewer giving up on the book because the "frenetic style was tiresome." Usually when someone has feelings like that, it is because they don't understand the literature and so their mind wanders. Another review noted that Miller's supposed "shock tactics" were outdated. Miller never meant to shock people, that is in your head. If you read the opening quote by Emerson, it states something to the effect that telling a true story about yourself is something near to impossible, this is Miller's attempt at doing that. He pulls no punches on the everyday vernacular that he must have used and imagined. This makes the story not only authentic, but also compelling. Miller's mix of philosophy and the impressionistic portrait that he paints of Paris make for a challenging and gorgeous read. Like Whitman, Miller finds beauty in all things and despite atrocious circumstances, he finds the will and the hope to enjoy his freedom. His style cries Whitman with its use of many objects to describe a single scene or feeling, but he has a different touch than Whitman that allows for the darker underbelly of human life that we so often discard because we lack the ability to understand the parts of ourselves that we have been taught to be shamed by. A must read for those who have read Whitman and really love him. Great companions to this book are: Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" and Charriere's "Papillon."Shannon
This one was hard to rate. It is a worthy read for so many reasons: the tales of Paris in the window of time woven into the lives of intellectual bohemians spun so marvelously in both crass and captivating language. However, sensitive souls beware. It was a contributing factor (one of many) to a crisis of faith in my early twenties. The honest depravity of the male characters and the author himself confirmed all my worst suspicions of males being utterly inhuman and by far a lesser sex.Suzie
I don't know what was more embarassing - reading this book in public and wondering if anyone knew how vile it was, or seeing how many passages my mother had underlined in college. Naughty! (In her defense, she said she had no choice . . . )This was one of those titles I'd heard a handful of authors drop, and thought I needed to know why. I'm still not sure I completely understand the fascination (though I'll grant he HAS beefed up my quotes section), but at least I can say I've read Henry Miller, right? His Paris memoir kept reminding me of Herman Hesse's "Goldmund and Narcissus" and Jack Keroac's "Dharma Bums" - that tortured Bohemian lifestyle that artists subject themselves to for the sake of their craft, all in the name of life and art. It leaves a sort of empty, bitter feeling in the gut - not something I look for in a good piece of literature, but not without merit, either. I know, at least, that this is not the kind of artist I ever want to become - so disgusted with the world and its hypocrisy as to believe that truth and beauty can only be found in the darkest corners of the human experience - promiscuity, scatological discourse, vulgarity, masochism and misogyny. You're right, Mom. Henry Miller really was just a dirty old man. I had to learn that for myself, though.There were a few pearls of wisdom I gleaned from Mr. Miller - I think his better moments were the ramblings, rather than his actual experience (see quotes). I didn't agree with a lot of his nihilist diatribe, and I rather felt that he really didn't, either. Maybe it was the hunger speaking. I appreciate his honesty and (however subtle) admittance that he's just as unenlightened as the rest of us. 2 stars because I didn't hate it, but I can't say I liked it either. Which might be just what he was going for.Phil
This book defines what it means to live a totally free existence, a life wallowing in art and free of the constraints of time and money. Miller's amazing writing style and incredible vision make this one of the great books of the last century. The backdrop of this book is a civilization teetering, about to collapse. The squalid street life of 1920's Paris flows through this book with amazing force. Miller lives a parasitic existence whose only purpose is to write and read and eat and screw. His mind freely wanders and dares to go where it will because Miller's character-narrator has nothing to lose. I tried to achieve this level of freedom at one point in my life and this book was an inspiration to succeed. Miller's savage and dynamic prose stands in stark contrast to the whiney and irrelevant Lost Generation writers such as F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway who are sliding back into a well-deserved obscurity. This book will live as a pean to intellectual freedom and contempt for a pre-cast existence. Read it now.Tyler
The mashup of the poetic and the vulgar sets this book apart in a way that sometimes annoys and more often hits the spot. Miller gets modernist stream-of-consciousness to work cleverly through the trash-talk. Though I can’t tell you how hard it was to find a quote clean enough to use, it’s better to show what just can’t be described. Notice here how naturally thought flows: “After that,” – here Van Norden has to smile himself – “after that, mind you, he tells me how she sat in the chair with her legs up ... not a stitch on ... and he’s sitting on the floor, telling her how beautiful she looks ... did he tell you that she looked like a Matisse ... Wait a minute ... I’d like to remember exactly what he said. He had some cute phrase there about an odalisque ... what the hell’s an odalisque anyway? He said it in French, that’s why it’s hard to remember the fucking thing. It sounded just like the sort of thing he might say. And she probably thought it was original with him ... I suppose she thinks he’s a poet or something ... “ Now two complaints detract from the narration. One is the c-word in place of the b-word for women. It’s not that the b-word is exactly commendable, but that the c-word pops up again and again all over the place, like bombs going off, until you’re puking it by the end. The second complaint is the difficulty of following the action in the first third of the book. Miller confuses me with who was doing what with whom, and it only slowly clears up as the story unfolds.Despite legendary license and debauched dramas, the book has its virtues, among them the insight into those people’s minds, and the account of that generation's standards. We see how syphilis dominated people’s thoughts. One character, dousing his privates with a folk treatment for the syph, reaches over, grabs his dirty underwear, cleans himself, then tosses his shorts to the floor, all while his roommate blandly carries on. And for deodorant these stooges splash on a little cologne – something frightfully inadequate today, but probably better than the Victorians, who thought a perfumed handkerchief was the cat’s meow. So now we know what the broads back in the thirties could look forward to. In fairness to the males, the idea of a man washing his own cloths or worrying about a little stink was something only a sissy would take seriously. For both sexes, birth control was against the law but probably not needed. Indeed, let us pause and give silent thanks for sulfa drugs and Old Spice. The style is original, too, for the way Miller segues this slimy wallow in the male psyche from blunt vulgarity into language so sublime it resembles poetry in prose. Here I can give no example; these passages are too long and cannot be shortened without sacrificing the effect. But the downdraft and upsurge of the writing distinguish this book, and one cannot help but be struck by Miller’s distinctive narration.Tropic of Cancer has its ups and downs. Forewarned is forearmed: Readers who know what to expect will enjoy this excursion into Paris’s more exotic precincts.Annette
One of my favorite passages:"At night when I look at Boris' goatee lying on the pillow I get hysterical. O Tania, where now is that warm cunt of yours, those fat, heavy garters, those soft, bulging thighs? There is a bone in my prick six inches long. I will ream out every wrinkle in your cunt, Tania, big with seed. I will send you home to your Sylvester with an ache in your belly and your womb turned inside out. Your Sylvester! Yes, he knows how to build a fire, but I know how to inflame a cunt. I shoot hot bolts into you, Tania, I make your ovaries incandescent. Your Sylvester is a little jealous now? He feels something, does he? He feels the remnants of my big prick. I have set the shores a little wider. I have ironed out the wrinkles. After me you can take on stallions, bulls, rams, drakes, St. Bernards. You can stuff toads, bats, lizards up your rectum. You can shit arpeggios if you like, or string a zither across your navel. I am fucking you, Tania, so that you'll stay fucked. And if you are afraid of being fucked publicly I will fuck you privately. I will tear off a few hairs from your cunt and paste them on Boris' chin. I will bite into your clitoris and spit out two franc pieces...""The world is a cancer eating itself away"matt
Hank's a horny dude from nowhere Brooklyn who loves lowlifes and reads Proust.Hank's wife leaves him for a woman and he quits the country to go run around Paris as a freewheeling urchin.Hank writes dementedly eloquent insights as to the state of his Being.Hank writes a shocking, pornographic classic that is banned on arrival.Hank lives to see vindication.Go, Hank, go!Michael
Tropic of Cancer is probably best known for being about sex, a book that was banned for over thirty years. An autobiographical novel of a struggling writer living in Paris in a community of bohemians. A fictionalised account of Miller’s life living underground, with prostitutes, painters and other writers.This is an odd novel, not necessarily good but a literary landmark. Without Henry Miller we may never have books like Lolita, Naked Lunch, A Sport and a Pastime and even Tampa. On the plus side, we may never have Fifty Shades of Grey. This novel pushed the boundaries of literature in the 1930’s and found itself being banned, which developed a cult following that helped influence the future of literature. I tend to think, much like Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover, if it wasn’t for the banning of the book, this novel wouldn’t be a classic; it would have just faded away into obscurity.There are some advantages to reading this book, there are the autobiographical elements but then Miller focuses on his friends and colleagues. Almost off topic, like he is commentating on what is happening in their lives. Then it gets a little more complex because there is a stream of consciousness reflecting on the occasional epiphany. The whole narrative gets really confusing with its non-linear approach, the tangents and reflections. It makes the whole book hard to read and in the end not really enjoyable.I can’t help but compare this novel to The Dud Avocado, the sexual adventures in Paris is similar but Tropic of Cancer wasn’t as interesting and a female lead makes for a less sex obsessed narrative and tends to focus on life abroad as well. I can’t help thinking just how narcissistic Henry Miller must have been with all those autobiographical novels of his life; do people still do that? Or is this just a thing of the past, pushing the boundaries.I have to give Henry Miller one thing; he doesn’t hold back, he will expose the good, the bad and the disturbing parts of his life. If I ever wrote a book like this (which I have no interest in doing anyway) I would be more inclined to hold back, to paint myself in a more favourable light; Miller doesn’t do that at all. There isn’t much I can say about this book, it’s about sex and that is about it. The stream of consciousness part was interesting but I still find that difficult to read. I would probably tell people to skip this and read The Dud Avocado or something similar but for the book snobs (like myself) if you do read this book I hope you get something out of it apart from the historical significance of a book like Tropic of Cancer.This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2013/...