Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Dangerous Liaisons by Choderos de Laclos (4/5)

The back says: For the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont seduction is a game. As their intrigues become increasingly duplicitous and they find their human pawns responding in ways they could not have predicted, the consequences are more deadly that they could have guessed.

I say: I saw the film of this some years ago, and I remember it leaving a deep impression on me, and when reading this I remembered some details about the story, but it was a tad hazy.

Apart from the final scene.

The novel is made up of a series of letters sent between a group of people and presented to us by a publisher. It took me a while to get into this because I couldn’t stand the hyperbole and sentimentality of some of these letters. It was really annoying reading about how much and deeply they loved each other, and the only thing that kept me going was the scheming between the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont. However, somewhere around the 250 page mark it started getting a bit more interesting and the final 50 or so pages were worth all the tedium of the first 200.

Apart from the way Merteuil and Valmont completely play all those around them, the best part was their views on virtue, society, marriage, love, the difference between the sexes, and pretty much everything else they discussed. I don’t think it would be too harsh to call them both utter misanthropes. 

Well, maybe Merteuil more than Valmont.

I suck at writing synopses, and would really muddle everything up if I were to attempt it here. But as imaginative and riveting as the plot was, the real joy for me in this novel lies in the language (when it wasn’t sentimental declarations of love). I loved the way Laclos carved out the characters not only by how they wrote to each other, but also how they each were perceived by each other.  Cécile Volanges’ letters were a chore and a half, and some of the old ladies’ letters bored me to no end, but I still have to note the beauty of the language, and gems like this:

“It is so easy to be a bigot in writing! It never harms anyone else, and is no bother to oneself… “ – p 255, Merteuil to Valmont.

There are so many great quotes in here.

To be noted is that there is an abundance of literary references in this as well, which is always a joy to me – especially if it’s works I haven’t read.

Having said all that, I would like to have given this a full 5/5, but because I had to struggle in the beginning I’m bumping it down to a 4. I can easily see myself reading this again in a couple of years starting from somewhere around page 250.


  1. Great review. I like the sound of this one. I love the idea of seeing characters from the view point of others as well as their own. It makes it interesting. Going to have to add this to my tr list.

  2. I'm so impressed by the way Laclos had all the characters lives intertwine. There's a lot of gossip in the letters as well, which I love, because people believe only what they want to to the very last minute. And the ending... I recommend this to everyone. I'm going to go look for the film and watch that again.