I'm about half way through Tropic of Cancer now. It's not bad; but not exactly what I was expecting. This seems to be a reoccurring theme for me. I guess when I'm reading through a list of books I haven't read before, I should expect to be surprised.
Originally published in 1934, in France, it was banned in the United States (another reoccurring theme) for being obscene. Now, I wouldn’t use the word obscene, as I don’t really find anything to be obscene, but I can definitely see why prudish Americans would be up in arms in the 1930’s over this novel. The language used throughout is of the ‘R’ rated variety, and one of the predominant themes, prostitution, would have been something that wasn’t discussed in inter-war America.
The word ‘cunt’ is used so frequently in this book; you’d almost think you were reading a story from Penthouse Forum. (However, Miller has yet to mention that he attends a large mid-western university and never believed the stories, until last weekend, nor has his name and address been withheld.) While the sexual situations aren’t terribly detailed, there is discussion of douching, masturbating, condoms (the long fish skin variety?), and menstrual issues, including possibly the first ever use of the idiom ‘the wound that never heals.’ While none of this is very shocking today, in the United States in the early 30’s, you can imagine these topics all being very taboo. I mean, this book was published five years before the US was sent into a frenzy because Clark Gable removed his shirt in Gone With the Wind and used the most evil of words; ‘damn.’ I can’t imagine what a passage describing a whore using a bidet before being fucked would do to that same nation.
I’ve also been thinking about the language in this book compared to Naked Lunch, which was also quite liberal in its’ choice of words. While I found Naked Lunch to be using offensive words and situations almost for the sake of being offensive, Tropic of Cancer is using them to accurately reflect real dialogue. I mean, most people use ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ constantly throughout the day, yet it’s never heard on TV, and usually not seen in books.
Having said all this, the book is much better than I might have let on. It’s isn’t on this list for its vulgarity, but rather its descriptive brilliance. I’ll go back to reading now so I can finish it this month and perhaps summarize it a little more in depth.