A remarkable novel from start to finish on pretty much every level except, as my rating shows, on the development of any memorable character worth remembering or any plot. But that’s a weakness of my rating system, not the novel.
In fact, pretty much the point of the novel is that plot and character are what’s got us into the mess that Miller is trying to draw our attention to; this is about as anarchist as you could get for this genre in the 1930s. To bring defining societal models such as personality traits or storylines into Miller’s work would have been anathema to him.
The novel is one long pursuit of happiness through the ‘freedom’ of doing whatever you want, whenever you want to do it and with whoever happens to be lying around when you get the urge. The expression of this urge through sex was what got Miller’s book banned not only on its initial publication but also on its second
publication in the US thirty years later.
Reading it nearly 100 years after he wrote it though and you’ll not be as shocked as his contemporaries were. What you get is a very lucid picture of interwar bohemian Paris. In fact, if there is a character at all in the novel that is described in any detail, it’s the city itself.
Miller’s philosophy not only manifested itself in a refusal to maintain social boundaries. It also gave rise to his unwillingness to follow literary form. The novel is written in a style unique for the time with unconventional prose that is at time utterly remarkable. There are parts where it doesn’t work out so well but, as is the nature of experiments, you always learn something.
Those who learned went on to become great writers themselves: Burroughs, Kerouac, Easton Ellis. Some, such as Erica Jong, even borrowed Miller wholesale to make up for their inability to innovate style even if they had an original point of view.
There’s no doubt this deserves its place on the 1001 list even if you don’t appreciate the subject matter at times. Its influence has shaped the novel as we know it and, for that, it should be read by anyone interested in the novel as a medium of human expression.
Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | StyleRead more about how I come up with my ratings