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Last Words from Montmartre
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Archive > August 2014: Last Words from Montmartre

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Trevor (mookse) | 1425 comments Mod
For August the group selected Qiu Miaojin's Last Words from Montmartre. Discuss here:

Trevor (mookse) | 1425 comments Mod
I'm anxious for folks to start posting on this one. It was an uncomfortable reading experience for me because how much enjoyment are you supposed to get from a text written in such circumstances, and yet I did enjoy it.

message 3: by E (new) - rated it 5 stars

E | 5 comments I just finished today and I have to say I was completely blown away. One of my new favorite NYRB Classics for sure.

I agree that there is a disturbing element to the reading experience. I don't feel entirely settled on how I feel about it yet. On the one hand, I found the passages on sacrifice for love and art beautiful and deeply moving, yet on the other the book itself reads as a portrait of severe mental illness.

I'm very haunted by these lines in particular:

"I'm an artist, and what I really want to do is excel in my art... If I can only create a masterpiece that achieves the goal I've fixed my inward gaze upon during my creative journey, my life will not have been wasted."

I suppose I would like to read the book as (I imagine) Qiu intended, as a final work which is both the culmination and confluence of life and art. And yet, I cannot view her death as anything other than a great tragedy.

I think this uneasiness is one of the reasons I found the book so beautiful and haunting.

On another note, I'm curious to know whether anyone is following the author's suggestion to read the letters out of order. I was tempted but ultimately took the conventional route. If be very interested to hear how it changes the reading experience.

Trevor (mookse) | 1425 comments Mod
I read it in the order presented (I'm not sure I'm the kind of person who's capable of doing otherwise :-) ). Unless forced to, as you are with, say, B.S. Johnson's The Unfortunates, which New Directions published in a box a few years ago.

As for the discomfort, you quoted lines that I also felt uncomfortable with and yet fascinated by, the lines that suggest this and her suicide were one grand artistic gesture.

Did you get the same sense I did that by punctuating this work the way she did she was hoping to help others? That her own sorrow is amplified by her sensitivity to the sorrow of others and, in some way, would like this to stand as a witness to that sorrow, with a strange sense of hope?

Lois (literanarchy) | 113 comments I haven't finished this yet, so I'm not sure how much my opinion may change when I do. I agree that there is something macabre about this book as a reading experience; however, I also wonder just how literally it is supposed to be taken. Are we supposed to equate everything in this book with the author's life? Undoubtedly it is hugely autobiographical, and it seems impossible for the raw emotions to come from anywhere but the author's own heart and mind... But then again, maybe that is the true wonder of her talent? In any case, I would describe this as an intense reading experience, which is perhaps why it's taking me a while to get through even though it's quite short—it's a little hard to read a lot of it at once given the visceral emotion pumping through every line. One needs some time to recover. There are certainly some beautiful lines and moving sentiments in here, though. I look forward to getting through the rest.

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