Delta of Venus – Anaïs Nin
Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmells was a model, flamenco dancer, diarist, bigamist and eroticist.
Nin didn’t discover erotica until after she was married, while staying in the house of a friend. His secret collection of naughty French literature gave her a ‘degree in erotic lore’ and she went on to become one of the most famous writers of erotica in history, as well as the first noted female author of the genre.
I found Delta of Venus in the 10p box outside a charity shop. I knew the name from White Oleander (Astrid’s mama instructs her to find some beauty with a reading list) so I grabbed – comforting myself that buying a second hand classic is not the same as paying money for a grubby copy of 50 Shades of Grey.
And my word. I thought I’d seen filth but this is something else. It’s VERY French, which makes sense as Nin was half French, the stories are set in Paris and the stash of pornographie Française she found at the age of 20 clearly had a big effect on her. Anything you’ve ever had enter your head unbidden during an important meeting is here – and quite a few things that you’ve probably never entertained.
The writing itself is stunningly beautiful, in a way that only writing about Paris can be. The descriptions of black garters and velvet opera capes, picnics in the Bois de Boulogne, artists and mistresses meeting in steamy, smoky cafés… It’s intensely romantic, even at a dollar a page – which is what Nin’s mysterious ‘collector’ paid her, Henry Miller and diverse other bohemian enfants terribles for the dirty words they penned during the 40s, turning artistic smut into rent and shoes for the children.
I’ve since acquired A Spy in the House of Love, Artists and Models and Little Birds. As you could guess, I have high hopes.
Apricots on the Nile – Colette Rossant
This book’s structure is built around crystal clear memories of food – Egyptian food, glorified by a little French girl brought up in her grandparents’ glorious household.
The descriptions remind me of Travels With My Aunt by Graham Greene: sticky, heady scents and cocktails in the warm dusk of an upper-class world. It’s a lost world, where men wear white linen suits and pay for things discreetly, and ladies play bridge, shout at servants and arch their eyebrows at eccentric foreigners.
Hungry Hill – Daphne du Maurier
Rebecca was a triumph, Jamaica Inn was a snooze. Hungry Hill hasn’t let me in on its plans yet, we’re still scene-setting. But the subject – rich landowners profit from poor Irish copper mine workers – promises some good ol’ misery so it could be excellent.