Paquita Maria Sanchez's Reviews > The Torture Garden

The Torture Garden by Octave Mirbeau
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Feb 02, 2015

really liked it
bookshelves: literature

This one is defeating me as far as creating a formal review is concerned, so let me just instead tell you why I stuck with it, and why I may have been in a prime position to enjoy it as much as I did. Well, 'enjoy' is probably not the right word, because it is certainly not tons of fun to read. It's sexually-charged violence which explores the fork-tongued, heads-in-the-sand nature of the West in relation to its methods of maintaining order, punishing crime, and Civilizing the Natives the world over. Yes, it is certainly that.

At the same time, it is also an exploration of the razor-wire between lust and violence, and our addiction, as human beings entangled with one another in various attempts at real embraces, to desiring what we can't have while rejecting what we can or do; the feelings of repulsion that sometimes go with affection, the malaise that sets in. I have historically had trouble finding a middle gray between the romantic polarities. What starts out for me as excitement and intoxication often quickly devolves into shoe-fly irritation, depression, and a crippling desire for isolation. My suppression and denial of these urges and inclinations has repeatedly led to pain for myself and others. I wait too long without saying anything about the horrors in my brain until one day I explode in one way or another, be it hurtful words or even more hurtful actions. I'm not saying this is always the case, of course; it can also go the other way, and it's me who is all starry-eyed and really trying to force it to work, to make it fit like Cinderella's stepsisters and that one shoe. Every single time I have actually been optimistic and really given it my all, I have been the one crushed under the boot. What to do? Is it possible to stare my demons in the face and scare them away completely, surrounding myself with a circle of magical glitter dust that makes me impervious to...myself? Do I conform my shape to what I have been given as a result of my life and myriad experiences, both wonderful and horrible, and just run with the hyenas shamelessly until one of them completely extracts my still-beating heart and eats it while I watch in horror? Should I just hide in a room forever because you people/myself all terrify me? Jesus, where's the middle-ground?

Well, Mirbeau doesn't exactly claim that there really is one, but then again he's working at mushing extremes here, presenting them as symbiotic. It's all masquerading cruelty. We crave punishment because of its erotic nature resulting from the simultaneous births of both bloodshed and sexuality. We so often desire what we cannot have because that desire is self-feeding, virulent and primal, while comfortable, chaos-free intimacy can be numbing specifically due to its lack of friction and self-laceration. These are possibilities presented by Mirbeau, not me. Aren't they awful? Well, I'm still tossing the complexities of intimacy around, and this book aided me in doing that. Uncomfortably. That is why I can say I am glad I read it rather than that I enjoyed reading it, despite the fact that it was beautifully written even in translation. It shined a flashlight inside of my open chest and straight to my icky little ticker, grabbed me by the hair, and forced me to look while screaming a spit-ridden "TELL ME WHAT YOU SEE!" The juxtaposition of passion and destruction just resonated with me, as did the extremes of beauty and internal suffering. "Why are we so self-defeating, and how can we be so ugly to each other sometimes?" is a lot of what is asked here, and the behavior of these characters and their interactions with one another--a sadistic woman revealing the truth of herself to her horrified and stupefied lover--is presented as a case study exploring these difficult questions. The novel made me really look at myself and the people I've known and cared for, scary and queasiness-inducing as it may have been. I mean, it depressed the shit out of me, but that's not something I make a point of avoiding in literature. Speaking of which, check out this 'pot of gold at the end of the rainbow' metaphor for romantic love:

Come, my dears, come quickly. Where you are going there is still more pain, more torture, more blood flowing and dripping on the earth, more contorted and torn bodies breathing their last on iron tables...more ragged flesh swaying on the gallows-rope, more horror and more hell. Come, my loves, lip to lip and hand in hand. And look between the foliage and the lattice-work, look at the infernal diorama unfolding, and the diabolical festival of death!


The power of positive thinking, right? Ope, looks like a storm is coming...
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Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

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Matthieu In order to test a new bullet, you need a line of Hindus.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Man, that was actually one of the very last parts I read before putting this down and getting distracted by other books. I don't know why I am stringing this out; it's freaking fabulous and wretched, and I'm totally in the mood for that combo.


Matthieu I'll always remember that. Parts of this book are totally (unintentionally?) hilarious. Mirbeau's awesome.


message 4: by Simon (new) - added it

Simon I'm pretty sure this book isn't for me!


message 5: by Jenn(ifer) (new) - added it

Jenn(ifer) Wowza. Me gusta mucho.


Paquita Maria Sanchez It is a mean book, but very good. Sometimes you have to scream it.


message 7: by Brittany B. (last edited Mar 16, 2012 12:25AM) (new)

Brittany B. Great review! Sounds fascinating.


message 8: by Jenn(ifer) (new) - added it

Jenn(ifer) Paquita Maria wrote: "It is a mean book, but very good. Sometimes you have to scream it."

I would expect nothing less from "the TORTURE garden"


Paquita Maria Sanchez Well, the plot is that you are strapped down to a plush surface and forced to watch cute animal videos on youtube while being cuddled up on by dozens upon dozens of stray kittens with motorboat purrs.


j. ergo Awesome review P. You seem to have an innate ability to review yerself as much as the book in question; a brand of criticism(?) I see little of, saves some of yer other reviews. I don't have the ability to spot parallels to my own life in what I'm reading very often; not that making those connections always translate into recognizng and overcoming similar issues. Mirbeau's narrator obviously has little interest in understanding and creating, for lack of a better term, a well adjusted and stable life as many of us do. But I agree wholeheartedly that it's a thoroughly enjoyable ride, even when filled with occasional bouts of nausea, moments of disturbing personal insight, and yes, some very disorienting hilarity. I think the writing is straight baller, but then I've always had a thing for those transgressive French weirdos who hop from fiction to criticism to semiotics to philosophy like a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence trying to pick a major. Reading yer take on it reminds me that even for those ghoulish frog intellectuals, the heart is a lonely hunter.


message 11: by Paquita Maria (last edited Mar 17, 2012 11:33AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paquita Maria Sanchez Some would say it's not an ability, but rather a tendency toward self-indulgence which leads to some of the more revealing reviews like this, but I thank you all the same. I realize it can be fairly tiresome to try and complement someone, then have them just say why you're wrong over and over again, so I'll try to avoid that. Anyway, my point was that Mirbeau put me in a fowl mood and presented an interesting cross-section of ugly human emotions and tendencies. As these things have been on my mind for a while, I could have maybe been focusing too much on that aspect of it (because it definitely WAS there in heaping quantities), and too little on Mirbeau's message about Colonialism and modern, 'neat' forms of punishment and warfare. I would like to rewrite this review some day, but unfortunately/fortunately I have promised to mail this book to a friend. I will probably only ever have this lopsided review which I sorta hate for its slumpy gait and me, me, me-ness, but I am glad that you found it enjoyable. I just want people who can stomach it to read this book, basically. I just can't really enunciate why. Anyway, yeah. That Mirbeau, man. I need some more of his stuff.

Straight baller?


Paquita Maria Sanchez You should review it and balance the scales by talking about the actual book.


message 14: by mark (new)

mark monday excellent review. best i've read today.


message 16: by David (new)

David Katzman Great review!


Jonfaith I just bought this and La-Bas for myself for xmas.


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