Tropic of Cancer

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

In the first sentences, Miller writes:

“This is not a book in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of art, a kick in the pants to God, man, destiny, time, love, beauty, what you will.”

Story: Henry Miller and his ridiculous friends caper about Paris like frat boys with brains, dodging responsibility and screwing everything in sight (not necessarily in that order). That said, plot is minimal. Miller wasn’t lying: This is more an assortment of semi-autobiographical diary entries than a novel in any typical sense.

Writing: The writing is rather marvelous. If there were a stronger thread of plot, this book would probably be amazing.

Obscenity index: Tropic of Cancer was banned in the US in the 1960s, but its obscenity probably won’t set you swooning. It’s certainly dirty, somewhat creepy, full of foul language (in particular, see below), but not really offensive by today’s standards.

Best thing about it: Gives you implicit permission to call your friends “cunts.”

Worst thing about it: I’d have to go with no plot, but Miller’s weird brands of misogyny and anti-Semitism also get tiresome.

Audiobook insights: Recommended. The narrator, Campbell Scott, has this seedy sotto voce that really captures the intimacy and broodiness of the narrative. Some of the scenes—the bit with Carl comes to mind—are actually quite hilarious when read out loud. And, since you won’t have to keep track of any plot, the audiobook makes it easy to listen to five minutes at a time with no worries about getting interrupted and losing the point.

Final thoughts: I am so done with expatriate literature. Did anyone actually do anything in Paris in the 30s? Seriously. I am over it.

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