“The despondency that follows makes me feel somewhat like a shipwrecked man who spies a sail, sees himself saved, and suddenly remembers that the lens of his spyglass has a flaw, a blurred spot -- the sail he has seen.”
I think everybody who tries to write a review about Our Lady of the Flowers starts out confounded, befuddled, muddled as to where to start because for one thing Genet's writing style has jumbled up the coherent, organized part of your brain.
I was fortunate that the edition I chose to read included the Jean-Paul Sartre introduction. I'm sometimes on the fence about introductions, especially long introductions, Sartre's intro is 49 pages, because I think sometimes they suck the life out of the novel before you even have a chance to read the first page. Many introductions also assume that the reader has read the book previously. I took a chance mainly because I like Sartre and he did a wonderful job of preparing me for what I was about to experience.
This book is an ode to onanistic activities or in other words masturbation. To be more specific this is a collection of fantasies that Genet wrote while in prison to help him achieve a chain of orgasms. Yes there are explicitly written parts, but do not categorize this book as pornography or a book of cheap thrills. Genet writes such lush, evocative scenes that the sex that may or may not occur is immaterial. Really this is about passion. This is about Genet making love to himself. The characters that flow through this novel from Divine, to Darling, to Our Lady of the Flowers, to Mimosa are all just derivatives of himself. He uses shells of ultra masculine males, gypsies, thieves, and beautiful young boys, that he has cut out of magazines, to fulfill his sexual fantasies, but underneath in the hollow parts of their bodies they are Jean Genet. "When she talks to herself about Darling, Divine says, clasping her hands in thought: I worship him. When I see him lying naked, I feel like saying mass on his chest."
We all hope that we can experience a moment where someone feels this way about us. For Jean Genet these characters sprang from his imagination fully formed as the perfect, flawed lovers that his mind could move about like furniture building up fantasies that ultimately leads to his satisfaction. Our Lady of the Flowers by Miriam Laufer"Darling's life is an underground heaven thronged with barmen, pimps, queers, ladies of the night, and Queens of Spades, but his life is a heaven. He is voluptuary. He knows all the cafes in Paris where the toilets have seats. To do a good job, he says, I've got to be sitting down. He walks for miles, preciously carrying in his bowels the desire to shit, which he will gravely deposit in the mauve tiled toilets of the Cafe Terminus at the Saint-Lazare station."
I thought this was a good example of Genet talking about something most of us never want or need to talk about and yet when I read this I had to stop and read it again and again because it is a beautiful statement about one of the most base things that we all are required by our design to perform. Yet he jolts us by uses the coarse word shit which is quickly softened with the word mauve. He has made taking a crap a pilgrimage, an event, that the character Darling will cherish, and look forward to consummating.
And consuming. “I wanted to swallow myself by opening my mouth very wide and turning it over my head so that it would take in my whole body, and then the Universe, until all that would remain of me would be a ball of eaten thing which little by little would be annihilated: that is how I see the end of the world.”
I've never read anything like this. There are flashes of Genet in the stream of consciousness of the Beat writers, certainly Thomas Pynchon had read Genet before writing Gravity's Rainbow. The surprising part of the book is how accessible it is. This book was compelling to read and even though some of the twists and turns left me dazed and confused I just let it wash over me and continued on.