Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Book Review: Erotomania by Francis Levy

Originally posted on Goodreads:

This novel is in many ways a dark comedy based upon the themes of Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents. The story is a first-person narrative told by James, a theatrical set designer who becomes obsessed with a woman (who is likewise obsessed with him) after he has an anonymous sexual encounter with her. He knows her first through her body, long before he learns her name or identity, or even has a clear image of her face. But know her personally he eventually does, and the arc of the novel traces the evolution of their relationship, which can only be described as a mutually-enabled sex addiction taken to the very extremes of human physical tolerance and beyond. 

What is noteworthy about the novel is that, despite the gargantuan amount of screwing that occurs in it, none of it feels gratuitous or exploitative. This would be because Levy’s narrative is not about the sex itself, but rather the inconveniences of sex in a world that requires us to be civilized. What happens when two people find more meaning in sex than anything else in their lives? Are they ill, or does society make them ill by condemning their affliction? The reader’s attention is not directed to linger over the salacious details of physical communion but upon what happens, or fails to happen, as a result. When the first person narrator does go into detail about, for instance, the remarkable traits of his lover's genitalia, it is done to evoke the lightless, sensory world he inhabits, not to tantalize the reader. 

This short but very compelling novel echoes with a sense of the mythological, as well as a more modern existentialist nausea. Ultimately, and ironically (as intended) it is not the couple’s compulsive, epic lovemaking that evokes a certain terror, but rather the consequences of mitigating sexual desires in the mundane and familiar world of consumer society. Levy’s novel works magic because he wants to show the reader that this conundrum is both funny and tragic, and that love, as well as repression and conformity, lies behind the rules and limitations we seem unable to escape. Along the way, he is able to mock the phoniness of our many social conceits while to some extent vindicating their intent.

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