Reviews of 120 Days of Sodom, the (1791)
Marquis de Sade is a strangely fascinating creature. My introduction to him came with Pier Paolo Pasolini's adaptation of this novel: "Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom." After being incredibly moved and profoundly disturbed by the film, I decided to check out the book (i.e., copy-paste it off the internet). Once I had all 175,000 words of it (think about 600 pages), I settled down and began reading.
It took me two months to finish the dang thing. Talk about a LOOOONG book! It spent is own pretty time introducing all the vile characters of the novel, along with their vile traits and unnatural sexual abilities/appetites. Then it delved into the first thirty days, narrated by the whore Duclos, who told 5 perverse stories each day.
About Day One... those first five stories were gross enough. They involved monks with urine fetishes. I finished that part wondering how de Sade could come up with another 145 perversions for the first month (let alone the following three). But he did. Heck, he confounded my expectations. "The 120 Days of Sodom" contains THE grossest descriptions ever scribed with the human hand. There's a plethora of conservatives and not-so-conservatives who complain that our media and pop culture is becoming more depraved by the day, but apparently none of them bothered scouring novels written by Frenchmen in the 18th Century, because de Sade surpasses, both in depraved violence and aberrant sex, the worst thing you have ever seen on TV.
I mentioned that the first month holds 150 perversions--"passions", de Sade calls them. And each are described in great detail. Thankfully, he never finished the novel, and the last three months are in outline form (though with each of the remaining 450 perversion already planned out). If he actually got around to writing them, I'd still be reading them, and I wouldn't be having any fun.
It's just this: "120 Days of Sodom" is just too dang repetitive. Poop eating is shocking the first time you read about it; heck, it's shocking the fifth and sixth times. But once you get to the fiftieth time (and I am in no way exaggerating), things get to be mighty tedious. After so much shock, I became numb to it all, numb enough to eat nutty chocolate bars while I read about perverts wallowing in feces. I cannot describe how glad I was when I finally finished the book.
I still haven't lost my interest in de Sade; heck, I'm only more interested in him. I have since watched the movie "Quills", which is a fictionalized account of his stay in an asylum, and I'm also toying with the idea of reading "Justine" or "Julia"... if they're not as repetitive, that is. But the fact remains that Pasolini did a far better job with his film that de Sade did with the novel. The film addresses far fewer of the perversions, and it cuts out a whole lot of material, but it is infinitely more disturbing. The only real thing disturbing about the book is finding out afterwards that de Sade had too much in common with the libertines that so disgusted me.
Bottomline: the Abbe in "Quills" put it the best when he told Marquis that his work was simply "an encyclopedia of perversions." That's what it is: no more, and no less. I suggest reading only about 5 or 6 days of the stuff--pick it out of the middle of the novel or skip around to get the best sampling--and that should be sufficient to understand the picture Marquis de Sade is trying to drive home. I really didn't like the book myself, but it still highly intrigues me after I've read it. It must be one of those novels where it's far more fun talking about it than it is actually reading it.
Review by kinneygirl (2004-06-05)
A disturbing book. At first, it involves sex and poo, but it gets grosser and more perverse as you go further. Left a bad taste in my mouth but enjoyed every moment of it.