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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

I Spit on Your Graves

by
Boris Vian


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase I Spit on Your Graves



Title: I Spit on Your Graves
Author: Boris Vian
Genre: Novel
Written: 1946 (Eng. 1948)
Length: 190 pages
Original in: French
Availability: I Spit on Your Graves - US
I Spit on Your Graves - UK
I Spit on Your Graves - Canada
J'irai cracher sur vos tombes - Canada
I Spit on Your Graves - India
J'irai cracher sur vos tombes - France
in Die Krimis - Deutschland
Sputerò sulle vostre tombe - Italia
  • French title: J'irai cracher sur vos tombes
  • Translated into English by Boris Vian and Milton Rosenthal
  • With a Preface by Boris Vian
  • The TamTam edition comes with an Introduction by Marc Lapprand
  • The Canongate edition comes with an Introduction by James Sallis
  • I Spit on Your Graves was originally published under the pen-name Vernon Sullivan, Vian claiming that he translated Sullivan's original English version into French
  • J'irai cracher sur vos tombes was made into a film in 1959, directed by Michel Gast -- and Vian keeled over dead at a screening of the movie in horror at the abomination on the screen

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Our Assessment:

B : disturbing, but surprisingly fresh

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
American Book Rev. . 1-2/2000 bart plantenga
The Guardian . 4/8/2001 Chris Petit
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/2000 Monique Dufour
TLS . 1/6/2001 James Campbell


  From the Reviews:
  • "I Spit... is straight noir, but also a work of liberated imagination after four years of Nazi occupation: heady, abandoned, fevered and lubricious. A fusion of prime US pulp and French sado-eroticism" - Chris Petit, The Guardian

  • "The book is interesting from a historical standpoint because of its publishing history and Vian's authorship hoax. It's also a good example of an artful thriller that plays with the pulp conventions and uses the genre to satiric effect -- while reading the lurid story, readers are encouraged to conflate social criticism of race relations with sheer titillation, and the reception of the work dramatizes the way people can behave, as though reading a sensational novel about racial violence is the same as doing something about it. Unlike many pulp novels, Vian's holds up as a strange and shocking read today, no small feat in a gratuitous age." - Monique Dufour, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "It is, on the whole, an unpleasant work, though a curiosity whose appearance is welcome." - James Campbell, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       I Spit on Your Graves, a sensational bestseller in France in 1947 that reportedly sold more than half a million copies by 1950, was presented as a translation (by Boris Vian) of a novel written in English by a 'Vernon Sullivan'. The idea that it was unpublishable in the United States seems entirely plausible; it is a very graphic pulp thriller, and Europeans might very well have believed that the racial element made it impossible to release it in the US.
       The novel is narrated, for the most part, by an angry young man, Lee Anderson. Lee can -- and does -- pass for white, but is apparently black; one of his brothers was killed -- lynched --, and he's out for revenge. He takes a job running a bookstore in a small town and befriends the local youths, teens bored by small-town life and willing to have fun the only way they can around here -- drinking and having sex. Lee provides both.
       Eventually, Lee sets his sights on two sisters who live a few towns away, the wealthy Lou and Jean Asquith. Jean has at least hit twenty, but Lou is only fifteen. Lee's style of seduction is pretty rough and tumble, but in these parts it seems to work, and despite taking advantage of a completely drunk Jean he soon has both sisters wrapped around his finger.
       When Jean finds herself pregnant, things come to a head faster than he had hoped, but he figures he can take them both out. Naturally, things spin further out of control and don't go quite as planned or hoped for, with an ending of Greek-tragedy proportions. Vian allows the book to a come to a desperate, rushed end, which somewhat diminishes its power and effect, but the conclusion was, of course, inevitable.
       One reason the way Vian ties things up does not work that well is because the book is so shocking from the start. There's not that much violence (except as part of the sex-play that goes on), but there's a lot of loose and graphic sex going on (even as Vian maintains that Sullivan (i.e. he): "thinks more of suggesting by a turn of expression and construction of a sentence than by the crude word. In this respect he comes nearer to a more Latin erotic tradition" ...). There's some simmering racial tension, too, though Vian does not make as much of this as he might have, only bringing things to a head when one of the local youths takes Lee to have sex with some very underage girls ("two little girls about eleven or twelve years old"), one of whom is coloured (though at least that one, which Lee is paired up with, has a body that "had already taken the shape of a woman").
       I Spit on Your Graves is genuinely shocking in its display of the loose ways of 40s youths, but only works because Vian has a good ear for dialogue and a good sense of pace. Much of the story, including Lee's various seductions, seem very implausible, but there's a confident air to the whole presentation that prevents it from seeming entirely ridiculous. It reads well, and is an excellent example of the pulp-thriller, even if Vian can't completely hold it together. It also has held up very well, perhaps because it is so much a work of the imagination (as opposed to being based on any real experience of the American South, since Vian had none at that time).
       Disturbing, but a solid, sex-drenched piece of pulp.

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Links:

I Spit on Your Graves: Reviews: J'irai cracher sur vos tombes - the film: Boris Vian: Other books by Boris Vian under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Boris Vian lived 1920 to 1959.

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© 2008-2011 the complete review

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