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Conjugal Love Paperback – January 17, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Italian stylist Moravia (1907–1990) had his novels The Conformist and Contempt filmed by Bertolucci and Godard, respectively; this novel, freshly translated by Harss (who provides a short note), was written in 1949. Independently wealthy narrator Silvio Baldeschi is in his early 30s, an aesthete whose two elusive desires in life are to love a woman and create a great work of literature. He marries the sensuous Leda, a woman unschooled in everything except love, with whom he feels harmoniously suited. Together they move to his isolated villa in Tuscany for several months, where Leda is to act as muse for Silvio's great work. But Silvio decides their nightly lovemaking saps the energy he needs to write his masterpiece: over 20 days of intensive writing, they abstain while village barber and notorious womanizer Antonio, who comes daily to shave Silvio, moves in on Leda. The writer's inability to defend his wife's honor as the barber makes advances, let alone take her desire for Antonio seriously, begins the unraveling of their marriage. Moravia, in this Contempt-like setup, achieves a sly, convincing portrait in the voice of Silvio, whose love for Leda emasculates him, yet fuels his work. (Jan.)
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Italian stylist Moravia (1907–1990) had his novels The Conformist and Contempt filmed by Bertolucci and Godard, respectively; this novel, freshly translated by Harss (who provides a short note), was written in 1949.
Moravia...achieves a sly, convincing portrait in the voice of Silvio, whose love for Leda emasculates him, yet fuels his work.
In this brief novel, celebrated Italian novelist Moravia probes many issues, including literary inspiration, the effect of a muse on both creativity and self-discovery, and the possibilities of platonic and conjugal love.
Boasting a fluid style that is elegant yet simple, Moravia is a master of writing about men and women and their love lives.
Alberto Moravia crafts a delectably arch tale of a wealthy dilettante and his sensually neglected wife.
Reading Alberto Moravia's Conjugal Love will take only a couple of hours -- fortunately. For once you start this intense short novel, you won't be able to turn your eyes away....
Marina Harss's English carries us smoothly into Silvio's mind, as he reflects on his art and on his wife until each gradually grows into an aspect of the other.
A short, first-person novel, such as Conjugal Love, is frequently the genre of confession and confusion, of emotional uncertainty and torment. And not just for the protagonist. The reader, unable to gain any viewpoint on events except through the narrator's consciousness, experiences a peculiar claustrophobia, trapped in the mind of a madman -- or of a poor doomed innocent en route to the slaughterhouse. Slowly we begin to suspect terrible things, but it takes a long time before we actually know.
The New Yorker
A wealthy, idle man with literary aspirations retreats to an isolated villa in Tuscany with his new wife, where they make a pact: to abstain from sex until he finishes writing a story. The only intrusion is a local barber, who arrives daily to give the husband a shave and possibly put the moves on the wife. In other hands, these would be the ingredients of farce, but Moravia, who died in 1990 and is considered one of the preëminent Italian writers of the twentieth century, delivers something at once more bitter and more tender: a parable of marriage, that odd mixture of violent devotion and legitimate lust, in which desire eventually gives way to a forced and decorous composure that captures the essential opacity of even one's most intimate partner.
Time Out New York
Alberto Moravia's Conjugal Love is a short novel whose surface clarity shellacs over its shriekingly bizarre underpinnings. When the book was published in 1951, the Italian author was well known for his moody portraits of sexuality, and this excellent new translation shows why.
All the usual Moravian themes are present and accounted for: the perverse psychosexual dynamics; the ways in which even our intimates are unknowable to us; the existential brooding on isolation and illusion—all set against the elegant tableaux of the leisure class. Silvio, with his vague aspirations and idle existence, is a classic dilettante. His ideas about love and art are initially benign, even endearing. By the book's end, however, Silvio's naïveté has morphed into something far more alarming. He’s not just insulated from struggle, but from reality.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Moravia... is a master storyteller and his political commentary never overpowers his narrative. The beauty of Conjugal Love is that, politics aside, it can be read simply as a compelling tale of love and betrayal.
Silvio's very open, almost confessional style—he reveals (and seems to almost revel in) warts and all—is very appealing and makes the story all the more convincing. Conjugal Love is not a happy tale, but it is a satisfying one. And very well told. Recommended.
Throughout his long and astonishingly productive career, Alberto Moravia never stopped exploring the erotic highways and byways. Of course, he tended to look on the dark side. Readers of his many fictions will search in vain for a life-affirming roll in the hay. Instead Moravia zoomed in on the pitfalls, power struggles, and multiple deceptions of eros. Think of him as the Beethoven of bad sex, blessed with a glittering style and the emotional temperature of an icebox. Conjugal Love is no exception to the rule.
The Washington Times
To read Alberto Moravia's Conjugal Love is to be transported to the lush landscape of 1930s Tuscany. But the pleasure that comes from this amazing little book rests squarely with Silvio, the beguiling protagonist who leads readers to the story's central conceit...
Read this terrific book. It will make you want to say something kind to someone you love.
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A great novel, wonderfully written, can be read in one evening, and should be enough to scare any reader into abandoning whatever phony acts the reader may be using to fool himself and/or those around him, and instead dive into and thus create a real life for him/herself.
He is a gifted writer, no doubt. His metaphors, especially, are magnificent. For example, the following describes the behavior of his wife at a certain point in the novel: "From that moment onwards Leda's behavior had been characterized by the inflexibility, the velocity, the weight of a stone that plunges through space to the bottom of a deep ravine." Such brilliant metaphors, with their foreshadowing power, push the narrative forward with grace and depth.
Yet the woman, his wife, lacks reality and motivation, and often seems to be a figment of the writer's imagination. Although he rebukes himself as "selfish" and a "dilettante," and although he claims that his wife is beautiful, he also compares her to a "goat," and to "the repellent appearance of a grotesque mask" when she was angry or upset. She also loved "gambling" and was not very intelligent. At the beginning of their marriage, "she was a mirror in which I gazed at the reflection of my own happiness." But soon their love making seems to be an obstacle to his attempts to write a great story, as if he were writing with his penis. So he stops making love to her until he finishes his story. In the meantime, she succumbs to the temptations of his lustful barber Antonio, who used to come every morning to shave him, and the narrator catches them in their lustful dance among the hay stacks on the thrashing floor. As he watches her climbing the hill to her lustful lover, the goat image appears once more. Finally, he compares her to a gargoyle, the grotesque demon embellishing Medieval churches. This turns the book, written before the modern feminist revolution, into a good old-fashioned misogynistic (and melodramatic) romance. Enjoy (if you dare).