BlazeOEmbersBy ANDRE PIEYRE DE MANDIARGUES (Calder & Boyars, Ltd.; 1959/71)

This collection of seven erotic-surreal stories, initially published back in 1959 (in French), was apparently quite the shocker in its day.  It was reportedly “banned” in the United States, where it has never been published, with this 1971 British edition being its sole appearance in English.  Obviously the book is no longer as shocking or outrageous as it once seemed, but it still startles, due mostly to the fecundity of the language, ably translated from the work of an author, the late Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues, who really had a way with words.

Eroticism was a crucial component in Mandiargues’s life (his personal collection of pornography was legendary) and fiction, and is crucial to these tales.  Each is dedicated to a notable French novelist of the period (Pauline Reage, Pierre Klossowski, Julien Gracq, etc.), with quotations from said writer’s work serving as prefaces, yet in all cases the overriding viewpoint is that of Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues himself, whose prose was nothing if not idiosyncratic.

Dialogue is quite sparse, with preference given to dense and passionate uber-descriptions.  This admittedly makes for a lugubrious-by-modern-standards reading experience that requires a great deal of attention (sample prose: “But we had scarcely emerged from the years of hatred, the walls were still black, pitted with lead, and it seemed that not to be cruel would have been to lack the intoxication of living”).

The title story takes place in Brazil, and involves a young seductress who partakes in a Brazilian dance-a-thon, ignorant of the darker reaches of the culture and her place in it (a mistake!).  In “Rodogune” a man becomes infatuated with a strange woman who has an unnatural relationship with a ram.  “The Stone Girls” liberally partakes of the supernatural in its depiction of unearthly women residing within a large stone.  “Clouded Mirror” is the least erotic of these stories, being a stark evocation of loss and sadness in the form of a man, grief-stricken over the untimely death of his daughter, who’s led on a mysterious nighttime voyage by a woman who closely resembles the object of his grief.  In “The Nude Amongst the Coffins” an amorous woman, who exists solely in the mind of a daydreaming man, is forced to dance amid a bunch of coffins.  “The Diamond,” the most imaginative of BLAZE OF EMBERS’S contents, has a woman literally entering into a diamond–and builds from there.  Finally there’s “Childhood Dreams,” focusing on the memories and ruminations that go through a man’s head as he has sex.

Among that line-up the standouts are “The Nude Amongst the Coffins” and “The Diamond.”  All of BLAZE OF EMBERS’S stories, however, have their charms, even if they aren’t exactly what you’d call reader-friendly.