Thursday, 6 November 2008

lust [w. elfriede jelinek]

Lust is not a straightforward read. In theory it tells a small story, which takes place, so far as I could make out, over the course of a couple of days. Gerti is married to the swinish factory owner, Hermann. She meets a student, Michael, and they have sex. Later she tries to run away to be with Michael, but he's not interested, Hermann comes and gets her and brings her home, and she murders their child. 

That's what happens, but Lust isn't really about what happens but the way in which these actions are described. Jelinek's prose is composed of dense, poetic, pornographic  paragraphs. She's a writer who can't resist a pun, which suggests that her translators have their work cut out. Trying to get to grips with her text is like wrestling with a bibliophilic python. It's hard work, and matched by the writer's bleak analysis of modern life. 

Lust is a book about lust, and large chunks of it are dedicated to painstaking descriptions of sex. Gerti is fucked every which way by a husband who has remarkable stamina and who sees his wife as his chattel, to do with as he pleases. It seems somewhat surprising that this hasn't put Gerti off sex, but when she meets Michael, the attraction seems to be primarily physical. You won't read a dirtier book than Lust, but that doesn't mean there's anything particularly erotic about it. Sex is another commodity in a world which has been reduced to pure commodification.

For what it's worth, my favourite chapter was the one which described the skiers, in all their florescent gaudiness. It reminded me of a Peter Doig picture I saw earlier this year, a white mountainside populated by small figures in bubble gum colours. Jelinek's critique of modern living merits the application of words like 'coruscating'. Her unremitting bleakness and baroque prose isn't going to appeal to a mass audience, although it has secured her the Nobel prize. 

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