Magazine article World Literature Today

Last Words from Montmartre

Magazine article World Literature Today

Last Words from Montmartre

Article excerpt

Qiu Miaojin. Last Words from Montmartre. Ari Larissa Heinrich, tr. New York. New York Review Books. 2014. isbn 9781590177259.

One cannot be qualified to make a specialist judgment on a work and also have no preconceptions about it. To be frank, I opened the package containing Last Words from Montmartre prepared to be enthusiastic, committed as I am to formal experimentation, queer texts, and global sinophone writing, and glad to find a rare Asian writer among the NYRB Classics. Qiu enjoys a sky-high reputation in contemporary Taiwanese literature, and reception of her in the West so far has also been warm. Then there is the biographical hook: the novel, if that is what it is, revolves around and culminates in the suicide in Paris of the twenty-six-year-old Taiwanese lesbian narrator, and was written by Qiu, a twenty-six-year-old Taiwanese lesbian, who committed suicide in Paris in 1995.

But though it is a flawless translation, it is not really a good book. Bracketing the question of Qiu's real-life death, which is responsible for much of the work's cult status, the work's literary merits are a particular taste at best. The book is organized in letters, most of them addressed to the distant and estranged beloved, Xu. A note tells us that we may read the letters in any order, and indeed they are neither internally cogent nor sequential. Since few plot situations or character portraits are presented, either, the result is a meandering (very French) interior monologue. The literary payoff in such a text must be in felicities of thought, language, perception, or image, since the torments of passion are in and of themselves standard fare. …

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