58. Les Liaisons dangereuses, Choderlos de Laclos (1782)

Ah, the epistolary novel. Such a simple idea, so very hard to pull off. When was the last time you read a novel in the form of letters (or diary extracts, for that matter) that didn’t make you scream ‘Oh for Christ’s sake just write a conventional narrative!’? Les Liaisons dangereuses is the book to blame – and it’s the only one I can think of off the top of my head where the letter-writing is so deftly integrated into the meaning of the novel. Everyone is probably familiar with the story – two wicked old slags, one male, one female, conspire to corrupt a pair of virtuous young women – and on that level alone Les Liaisons Dangereuses is excellent sleazy fun. But it’s the technical accomplishment that makes it such a great book (in fact as I type these words I’m thinking ‘only number 58? Can that be right?’). The key moment, for me, is when the Marquise de Merteuil’s compromising letters – the ones we’ve just read – fall into the hands of her enemies, precipitating her downfall and death. I remember thinking the book had suddenly become very heavy and unaccountably hot when I first read that bit. I also love the fact that the book immediately predates the French revolution, which gives it an extra whiff of sulphur. (Now, tell me if, while reading the above, you didn’t start thinking of the French and Saunders sketch?)

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1 Comment

Filed under My top 100 novels

One response to “58. Les Liaisons dangereuses, Choderlos de Laclos (1782)

  1. Atreyu Crimmins

    An extra whiff of sulphur indeed! Lovely piece.

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