Sunday, November 24, 2013

Review of "In the Forests of the Night" by Vanessa de Sade, illustrated by Vanity Chase

In the Forests of the Night

What a pleasant surprise—and what utter lubricious delight! Vanessa de Sade’s collection of seven short erotic wonder tales is a feast for the senses and the intellect. And Vanity Chase’s beautiful, luxuriously frank storybook-style illustrations make for a scrumptious dessert, indeed. Offering more than mere spiced up retellings of popular fairy tales, de Sade draws broad inspiration from stories that have become part of our collective subconscious, borrowing imagery and atmosphere as suits her diverse and very-contemporary mise-en-scènes. She effectively reconnects these narratives with their long-dormant sensuality, cutting away the centuries-old briar hedges of reticence, sanitized puritan disapprobation, PC pap, and Bowdlerized bunkum.

But we’re not talking artsy-fartsy bijou or nerdishly twee literary autoeroticism here. To be sure, In the Forests of the Night is intelligently written, but always accessibly sexy, too; scintillating as the hottest foreplay, satisfying as a serial orgasm, memorable as the first time a lover made you faint in bed. I like the fact that de Sade’s characters aren’t all necessarily physically perfect (Rapunzel), or perfectly predictably endowed (Cinderella Story). I enjoy the way she blurs the lines of the hetero- and homoerotic, reveling in voyeurism and the vicarious thrill of pansexual abandon (In the Forest of the Night, Thumbelina). I relish the style with which she elucidates horror, obsession, and madness (Bluebeard’s Tower, Thumbelina). 

Language can be deceptively simple here, but this serves to draw us all the more deeply into the world of de Sade’s characters. She employs the familiar narrative forms of bedtime stories and the kind of literary fairy tales that are, alas, no longer in vogue. Essential backstory is frontloaded as opposed to being “marbled” through the text, where, once gotten past, action—and particularly erotic action—is everything. The imagery is rich, sometimes extravagantly so, yet always archly apt, as in this passage from Handsome and Gertrude, the fourth tale in the collection:

She could hear them all whispering in their plush and cosy little apartments, tiny rodent-like voices scratch-scratching away like sunbed-tanned mice as they watched her approach the private elevator that led to the penthouse, their curious eyeballs glued to their shiny brass peepholes as she walked boldly past exuding a confidence that she certainly didn’t feel.

The lush, clear-lined illustrations by Vanity Chase add to the delightfully vibrant atmosphere so expertly evoked in de Sade’s writing. The artist’s sometimes Art-Nouveau-ishly eleborate arabesques effectively prove Joyce Whalley’s assertion that "a good illustrated book is one where the pictures enhance or add depth to the text."  See, in particular, the plate accompanying Beauty and Her Beast, the marvelous nudes in Cinderella Story and In the Forests of the Night, and the fascinating, eerily sexy, unforgettably fantastical image that enhances the already mind-blowing storyline of Thumbelina (I think, my favorite of the lot).  

Enthusiastically recommended!

[The publisher, Sweetmeats Press, informs me that the only way to guarantee getting the illustrations is to purchase the print version of the book.]

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