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the Complete Review
the complete review - prose

Singular Pleasures

Harry Mathews

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To purchase Singular Pleasures

Title: Singular Pleasures
Author: Harry Mathews
Genre: Prose
Written: 1981
Length: 144 pages
Availability: Singular Pleasures - US
Singular Pleasures - UK
Singular Pleasures - Canada
Die Lust an sich - German
  • First published 1988
  • With illustrations by Francesco Clemente
  • Also available in The Way Home (see our review)

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Our Assessment:

B : fairly successful variations on a theme

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Singular Pleasures offers 61 variations on that most common of singular pleasures. Across the ages, the world, the sexes, and the techniques Mathews' offers his descriptions of people paying their devotions to the great god Onan.
       It is not exactly masturbatory fantasy that Mathews' revels in (though, of course, it also is exactly that). Mathews merely describes the act and some of the attendant circumstances, in short pieces generally only some five and rarely more than fifteen lines in length. This is not arousing literature, though it certainly is voyeuristic.
       Many scenarios are imagined (though certainly there are possibilities that remain unexplored). The masturbators are young and old, male and female, alone, together, watchers or being watched, and many in unlikely, embarrassing, and occasionally dangerous locations when they go about their pleasuring business. There is little connection between the individual acts, spread across the globe as they are (from Christchurch, New Zealand to Alma Ata to near Valparaiso to Kyoto in one random but representative sequence).
       An organization founded in Prague, MAID (Masturbation and its Discontents), "encourages its members to invent obstacles while masturbating." Mathews offers a few examples, then leaves off.
       Mathews' engaging, quirky descriptions never bore -- they are short descriptions in a short book. Everyone always quickly gets to the point.
       The Clemente illustrations (available in Dalkey Archive edition, but not in The Way Home) are a nice complement to the text. They are, fortunately, not explicit.
       These variations on this particular theme will obviously not appeal to everyone, but Singular Pleasures is an amusing entertainment.

       Note: this is not a how-to manual, and while there are some imaginative ideas in here there is not a great deal to learn.

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Singular Pleasures: Harry Mathews: OuLiPo: Other Books by Harry Mathews under Review Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Oulipo books under review
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction

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About the Author:

       American author Harry Mathews was born in 1930. He graduated from Harvard. In 1952 he moved to Paris, becoming a member of the OuLiPo in the early 1970s.

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