Sunday, December 1, 2013

Review of "Gardenias" by Valentine Bonnaire

Gardenias by Valentine Bonnaire

Modern literary erotica may well have had its genesis in Molly Bloom’s rambling (and notoriously unpunctuated) soliloquy at the end of Ulysses:

the sun shines for you he said the day we were lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head in the grey tweed suit and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharons and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

This is Stream of Consciousness at its most powerful, affective, and alluring. The influence of Joyce’s writing is undeniable even today, the technique imitated, aped and copied, adapted, used and abused so often in the intervening century that we sometimes forget the force of its initial impact, the blazing controversies surrounding its very novelty—akin, perhaps, to the scandals swirling about Stravinsky’s Le sacré du printemps only a few years earlier.  In the hands of countless lesser stylists this sort of writing quickly becomes tiresome, spawning clichés that are the stuff of broad parody, revealing the tail markings of starry-eyed amateurs, clueless wannabe iconoclasts, and misanthropic mercenaries. It all begins to feel like jacket notes on mediocre jazz albums from the 1960s. Needless to say, beginners should never try this kind of thing at home.

It is an occasion of no small pleasure, then, to discover the work of Valentine Bonnaire through this recent collection of erotic short stories. The language and style of Gardenias is very much in that rarefied spirit of Joyce and Anias Nin—writers to whom Bonnaire often seems to be paying reverent, though never slavish, homage—and these stories will be especially welcome to those in search of a purer, unapologetically literary approach to erotic narrative.

It may not be entirely accurate to describe the twenty-one sections of this book (untitled except in the Table of Contents) as “stories” in the most strictly conventional sense. More like gossamer strands of dream or nebulous wisps of uncongealed thought, sometimes surreal in their very promiscuous joinings and juxtapositions. The opening section, itself a kind of rondeau in prose, forms a broad thematic axis around which the other narratives—whether photo-realistic, impressionist or sensuously abstract, revolve. Characters and ideas seem to phase in and out of focus, recapitulated—or perhaps, more aptly, reincarnated, again and again. Some of the stories are reprised from different perspectives or vantages of time and retrospect.

The power of lingerie. It’s so easy, really. Most men are simple. They like to look at it and imagine that it is all for them , except, no, it’s all about Vogue, really. It’s all about glamour and the thrill of putting all these things on  only to have them ripped off hours later as he sends his hands traveling up and down and he doesn’t give a damn about it anyway , he just wants to get it all off  of you and dig up deep and get inside until you lock and couple swaying into one perfumed entity together.

High heels and lipstick and perfume. How incredibly easy it is to set up moods that you later remember in a swirl of darkness  where his tongue took you over and over as your thighs opened to him. Opened to his tongue all curved against the surfaces you planned for hours  beforehand, knowing exactly what you were doing choosing colors and textures  and patterns like an artiste  and he fell into it like a trap because it is a trap in the end, isn’t it baby? So much succulence all curved around scent and color and . . . then he says to you your skin, your skin, baby I’ve never . . .

Like the finest poetry, which does not realize its full potential unless read or recited aloud, Bonnaire’s prose needs to be spoken aloud to release its magic. For this is the prose of seduction, of moonlit rooms and distant drums, of incense and candlelight, of rose-scented baths and diaphanous curtains stirred on warm evening breezes. Words that should be whispered, by one lover to another in close embrace like a sibilant caress, the imagined brushing of lips, moving softly and so very near, yet all the while just out of reach, and hearts going like mad and yes we say yes we will Yes.



  1. I have read this book and agree completely with the reviewer. Gardenias is an extraordinary collection of stories that can be read over and over. Each is a gem, but as a whole they bring out so much more. Truly a magical, reading experience.

  2. Thank you two so very much. Can't explain. I'm making a new edition that has a few more stories in it -- and I couldn't have done all this without the reviews you left? I really mean that.


  3. Her writing is so Poetic and flowing : )