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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Necrophiliac

Gabrielle Wittkop

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To purchase The Necrophiliac

Title: The Necrophiliac
Author: Gabrielle Wittkop
Genre: Novel
Written: 1972 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 91 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Necrophiliac - US
The Necrophiliac - UK
The Necrophiliac - Canada
Le nécrophile - Canada
The Necrophiliac - India
Le nécrophile - France
Il necrofilo - Italia
  • French title: Le nécrophile
  • Translated by Don Bapst

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Our Assessment:

B+ : stylish depravity

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A 21/7/2011 Nicholas Lezard
Publishers Weekly . 21/2/2011 .
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/2012 Yevgeniya Traps

  From the Reviews:
  • "I will spare you the details except to say that Gabrielle Wittkop had obviously given some thought to the kinds of things that can happen when having sex with the dead. She puts us right there, sparing us nothing. (...) This would be a poor and revolting little book (fewer than 100 pages, which is quite enough, really) if it did not have such a poised tone and sensibility, such intelligence, behind it. Or if it sheltered itself, in cowardly fashion, behind allegory. It is the apotheosis of sick humour (.....) This is a masterpiece." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "While the material is inarguably gruesome, it's not especially smart or alarming, though it may hold some appeal to the young and disaffected who haven't yet been turned on to the marquis de Sade." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Like some unrepentant, polymorphously perverse Humbert Humbert, Lucien intoxicates with his language (.....) The resulting narrative is discomfiting to be sure, but it is also far more sad than shocking. Loving the dead, it seems, is no less complicated than loving the living, and in the end, we all die alone." - Yevgeniya Traps, Review of Contemporary Fiction

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:

       The Necrophiliac is, indeed, the story of someone who defiles corpses. The narrator of this very slim novel is a die-hard lover of the dead, aroused by almost nothing else, enraptured by the bombyx-like smell of human decay.
       It is, of course, a passion that can only be embraced ever so briefly: for the necrophile, more than any other, "joy never comes without the grief of knowing it is only ephemeral". Nabokov's nymphets may have a few good years in them, but a corpse ... well, there's only so long that can be used as a play-thing -- and it's not so long. Indeed, the narrator's downfall comes when he can't bring himself to let go, finally losing the self-control that has allowed him to get away with indulging in his abominable pleasure for so long, giving in to this passion entirely.
       In this one respect necrophilia is, arguably, passion boiled down to its essence, an ephemeral pleasure that can not be held onto, do what one might. Less convincing is the narrator's other claim, that:

Necrophiliac love: the only sort that is pure. Because even amor intellectualis -- the great white rose -- waits to be paid in return. No counterpart for the necrophiliac in love, the gift he gives of himself awakens no enthusiasm.
       Of course, he's gotten that all wrong (well, except the part about awakening no enthusiasm): necrophilia is not just the opposite of pure, it is also nothing more than self-gratification of the basest sort. There is no other involved in the act, beyond what the perpetrator projects on the object; it is an entirely solitary act.
       Yet these surely are the reasons Wittkop chose such a character and such a premise for her novella: she doesn't want to shock (well, presumably it amuses her to shock, too, but that's just incidental, a pleasant bonus) but rather to show in its icy-clearest form that love, in all its physical manifestations, is entirely fleeting, and that sex remains always an entirely solitary and self-serving act, with only the delusion of connection to the other. The creepiest thing about this very unsettling work is not what the narrator does -- which is quite decorously presented -- but the conviction that is conveyed: the narrator's passion is 'real', even as it involves the unthinkable, and this suggests that all our passions, even the most 'normal' and socially acceptable are similar constructs, and that romantic gush is merely a more respectable excuse for something that is entirely individual and only at its most superficial mutual.
       The narrator of The Necrophiliac is an antiquarian -- "a situation almost ideal for a necrophiliac" -- and the story is presented in the form of brief diary entries. He explains how he goes about his business -- generally digging up fresh graves (this aspect of his story doesn't sound entirely realistic, but one gives him the benefit of the doubt), and then disposing of them in the Seine after he's had his way with them. The narrative doesn't just describe a sequence of ... conquests, but rather presents the whole picture of life-as-a-necrophiliac: what helped set him off as a young boy, various encounters with the living (from the police to the maids who comment on the smell to the occasional possible fellow-necrophiliac). Wittkop gets the worst over with quickly; the gurgling on the second page of his story is about the nastiest thing she throws in the reader's face -- but, admittedly, there's a lot of off-putting stuff in the book, though most of it is artfully presented.
       Certainly, The Necrophiliac is not for the squeamish -- as, for example, in the descriptions of Henri, who died of scarlet fever at age six (yes, the necrophiliac is willing to have a go at anything, regardless of age, sex, or physical condition) and whom he clings to for a bit too long:
His flesh softens from hour to hour; his greening stomach sinks in, rumbling with bad flatulence that bursts into enormous bubbles in the bathwater.
       The narrator also has some standards: far from considering him a confrère, for example, he maintains that the sadistic "Gilles de Rais disgusts me".
       There's a lightness to his tone, too, which works well given the darkness of the subject matter; one can almost hear his sigh as he admits:
     I can't see a pretty woman or a handsome man without immediately wishing he or she were dead.
       The narrator is, of course, a very limited character -- and Wittkop was wise not to let him stretch his tale out at much greater length. Defined solely by his passion, it's his passion that eventually is his undoing -- in the inevitable conclusion to what is, after all, an archetypal romance tale.
       Stylishly written, The Necrophiliac is a disturbing but impressive work, a dark reminder of the true nature of love and passion, suggesting that even those who find the protagonist's actions abhorrent fundamentally differ from him only in the nature of the objects of their affection.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 August 2011

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The Necrophiliac: Reviews: Gabrielle Wittkop: Other books by Gabrielle Wittkop under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Gabrielle Wittkop was born in 1920 and died in 2002.

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