Thursday, October 14, 2010


For some strange reason, I kept off reading Contempt and have realized what a mistake I made. I do not want to outline a plot of this novel here, for that is easily done anyway. what strikes me most about this novel is the mood, the evocation of mood, the sense of doom, the breathless energy of that mood, the unending melancholy of the prose, the pace of narration, the sense of elegiac destiny of the characters, the almost detective pace in the end. Moravia is well known to belong to the group of writers who gave us the essay- novel, like Musil for instance. I perceive that Moravia or reading him is out of fashion, particularly in America these days. Some of his books sadly are out of print as I discovered recently, like The Lie for instance. I acquired a dusty copy of Conjugal Love recently, which in its introduction calls Moravia a master of relating the war of the sexes!

Contempt is not just the dissection of love between a married couple but a narration of states of mind. what the narrator wants to know is ' why doesn't my wife love me any more?'. the question of there being any validity in his belief or any substance in his belief while being the focus of his narration, there is also a sub plot namely in that Moravia introduces the story of Ulysses, and a neat little interpretation of whether Ulysses didn't return to Penelope for so long because she detested him, he knew that, he kept away because she had contempt for him? contempt, that is what the narrators wife tells him she has for him. we go through his attempts to try to ascertain what he might have done to attract this contempt, and he is convinced that while he might have made a few mistakes, he hasn't actually done much to earn her contempt.

While Moravia is generally regarded as an existentialist writer, what strikes me most is his psychological characterization, his eye for depiction of mental states, the ceaseless digging at situations. In essence, this is a plot-less novel and more of a situational essay-novel. His attempt to portray a marriage is secondary, the chief concern is portrayal of character. 'You are not a man', the narrator's wife tells him. He finds that hard not to bear but to understand. After all, what should a man be like, a question that puzzles me much. Within Contempt the novel is woven a systematic deconstruction of those states of mind that we don't admit we actually entertain, even if occasionally.

Godard's movie, is extremely faithful to the novel. The movie has some stunning panoramic vistas that just is a pleasure for the senses including a very melancholic soundtrack. Does the movie read like a suspense thriller: no, does the novel: yes. The movie is as good as the novel, though I think the novel is better. Reading Moravia is like getting into a pincer, two pages and you know this is getting really uncomfortable fast. You want to read more to get out of your misery, you want to read more and more and finish the damn thing in one sitting. I have no more praise than that.


Roxana said...

thank you oh thank you

i will have to come back to this post after i have read the book and seen the film... you know, these days i had a similar discussion about a book/film parallel, comparing Joyce's story The Dead and the film. the story is a favourite of mine, and i think i had unconsciously postponed watching the film, fearing a great disappointment. but it was not so, it was not so...

Anonymous said...

I think it's the best review of 'Contempt' I've seen on the web so far! Have to read some more of your blog