Les Liaisons Dangereuses – Choderlos de Laclos

For this months Riverside Readers book group choice (which was last night) Polly of Novel Insights had chosen the classic novel ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ by Choderlos de Laclos. Having seen the film quite a few times but not for a few years I was intrigued to see if the book would be as good as the film. I know normally we all worry that a film will not be as good as a book but Dangerous Liaisons is one amazing film. If you haven’t seen it then you really must. Back to the book…

Dangerous Liaisons (or Les Liaisons Dangereuses as my title was) is really a tale of love, hate, and lavish deviousness. From their separate abodes, or indeed the abodes of others, two bored aristocrats use the people they know as pawns in a game of deceit. The Marquis de Merteuil writes to her former lover the Vicomte de Valmont as she has decided to ruin the soon to be bride of Comte de Gercourt. This is a man she has a bone to pick with and so sets up spoiling his future young bride, a fifteen year old by the name of Cecile Volanges, in any way she can and wants Valmont’s help and also you get the feeling she wants him to be in awe of her wickedness which she is no doubt the better at. However Valmont is currently planning his greatest scandal yet the ruin of Presidente de Tourvel, the wife of a judge and a highly religious women. Valmont is decided he will make her fall in love with him, sleep with her and then leave her. There are much more debauched things going on but I wouldn’t want to give to many of these wicked acts away.

As the book continues the lives of these two marvellously cunning scoundrels draw in a whole cast of other characters who become embroiled in their web of plots and lies, from Cecile’s piano teacher Danceny, who she becomes besotted with, to her mother Madame de Volanges a friend and confident of both Merteuil and Tourvel. As the letters fly back and forth between this collection of characters Laclos creates an amazing plot which constantly twists and darkens as the dastardly duo of Valmont and Merteuil try to complicate things for one another and better each other in acts of their cunning.

I don’t know if you can tell yet that I absolutely adored this book. I thought it was wonderful and wish Laclos had written so much more. I did have a small gripe with the book which was that the middle does go on for quite sometime whereas the ending is very sudden and swift and I would have quite liked it to have been more drawn out. I thought the way Laclos wrote women was spectacular particularly the fact that all the women involved are so very different. His characters were all incredibly well constructed, Merteuil in particular is just a marvellously wicked complex woman, I did find Denceny quite wet and irritating but that also makes him slightly amusing. Every single one different even the way they wrote letters you always knew who was corresponding to who even if you had to put the book down mid-letter to make a cup of tea.

I hadn’t noticed until book group that scene setting isn’t really something Laclos does. You never get much description of where you are.But then as readers we all have to use our imaginiation don’t we?  Personally for me it wasn’t an issue as I didn’t notice because this book is very much about the internal mind games of two people. You do also get a real impression of society at that point in the history of France through the actions of the characters and the way they react to certain events as the story goes. It’s a marvellous tale that is wickedly entertaining and delightfully depraved. I urge you to read this book if you haven’t. If you have read it what did you think?

You can find other members of the book groups thoughts at Novel Insights, Reading Matters, Paperback Reader and Farmlanebooks


Filed under Book Group, Choderlos de Laclos, Oxford University Press, Review

28 responses to “Les Liaisons Dangereuses – Choderlos de Laclos

  1. I’ve wanted to read this for YEARS. I’ve seen the proper film, and Cruel Intentions ;)…high time I read the book itself! It sounds brilliant. Great review!

  2. As you know, I loved it also; I shall post my thoughts later today.

    “Delightedly depraved” sums it up!

    To be fair to Danceny, however, I found him very, very funny in his hyperbolic declarations of love and friendship; according to the notes his style of letter was very much a pastiche of romantic writing of the time and Laclos was being self-deprecating about his time as a poet. There were so many wickedly witty parts in the novel and Danceny and Cecile’s naivety added to the general amusement.

    Wonderful choice by Polly – is it our highest scoring book so far or was that Flowers for Algernon?

    • I meant to put delightfully depraved silly me. You would think with the amount of proofing I have to do I would be able to proof my own work but it appears it isnt so ha.

      Danceny is very funny but there was a fine line for me between loveable idiot and just plain idiot.

      Sadly due to the one score of 1 it dropped alot, Flowers of Algernon and 1984 are at a draw! I do wonder if a book will ever get full ten points from all of us!?

      • I didn’t even notice the delightedly instead of delightfully! I was agreeing. Hee.

        Checked the RR site for ratings and realised that Jackie’s score brought it down some ;). I doubt we will ever have 100% agreement but where would the fun in that be?!

      • No I only just noticed now am finally replying to everyone, its been an evil week lol.

        I agree on the not agreeing being part of the fun as mentioned to Jackie below. I have to say I think next months is going to be an interesting and dividing one too.

  3. I’ve been wanting to read this forever as well. Oh the movie! It is just deliciously wicked. It is what made me become a lifelong fan of Malkovich.

  4. As you know I didn’t like this book at all! I do have an imagination, but the lack of scene setting was a real problem for me. I don’t know what life was like all those years ago and love a novel’s ability to transport you back in time. This book failed to do that and the irriating characters just added to my pain. I know I’m in the minority on this one so I’ll leave you all to discuss its delights!

    • I can understand the non scene setting could be an issue for readers as it was for your good self. I was pleased you pointed this out though as I hadnt noticed and it was interesting to me that he hadnt done any.

      I am glad the group didnt all love it, I like the debate. Though would be amazing if we all give a book 10/10, I am an optimist so am hopeful it will happen.

  5. Pingback: Book Review – Les Liaisons Dangereuses, by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos « Novel Insights

  6. It’s been a while since I saw the film, but I did love it, and this review makes it almost impossible not to want to read the book! Onto the neverending TBR list it goes.

  7. I enjoyed this book mightily while I was reading it, but I’ve never felt a need to reread. I brought it to England with me when I was at uni there, and donated it to a charity shop when I left. I guess for books to become favorites of mine, I need to like some of the characters.

    • Ooh thats interesting as I would like to re-read this book one day at a slightly more leisurely pace as I raced through the wickedness on the whole (well apart from the middle) and worry missed some subtle spiteful bits!

  8. I’m sorry I missed the discussion. I could have given Jackie some moral support by the sounds of things, because I’m afraid I felt very luke warm about this book. Way too long, way too overwritten and populated by horrible horrible characters! 😉 Still, I’m glad I read it.

    By the way, I hadn’t noticed the lack of scene setting at all… I guess I just conjured up the drawing rooms and parlours etc in my own imagination.

    • They are vile characters, I dont know what it says about me that I liked them all the more for it!??! The middle did drag for me a bit, in fact around the time Jackie had had enough I was feeling slightly the same but carried on and am so glad I did.

  9. I haven’t actually seen the film even though I’ve been told I’d love it. Now here is the dilema to see the film or read the book first?! I must admit I still fancy the film a bit more.

    • I am always inclined to read the book first however I have noticed that those of us who saw the film loved, loved the book. Kim and Jackie hadn’t seen the film and didnt love it so much. Mind you Polly hadnt and she loved it so that puts paid to that theory!

  10. This is kind of hilarious because I just read a review on Farm Lane Books in which she hated this book and didn’t even finish it. So I’m glad YOU enjoyed it, as it’s still on my shelf waiting to be read. Gosh, I like 18th century France!

    • I did indeed enjoy it, in fact a lot of the group really liked it. I am pleased, in a weird way, we didnt all love it as it does make the debate when we are face to face more interesting the more takes we have on it and the more we differ as well as agree.

  11. gaskella

    I’m glad you loved it, especially as you have seen the film. It’s a book I’ve owned for ages and never read, because I wasn’t sure whether it could live up to the film. Or the stageplay for that matter which was excellent too, (although it would have been even better if I’d got to see Alan Rickman as Valmont, alas he’d finished his run by the time I saw it).

    • I have heard great things about the play when Rickman was in it in fact oddly I have had three conversations about that since in the last week not including this one, am gutted I missed it.

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  15. I haven’t read this book, and your review has enticed me to grab a copy. I like women who are witty and authoritative. I am curious to know these unique characters and why you described them that way. As you know, I am a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes series, and I like plots with twists. . If it’s a book that will really make me use my brain, then it is one I certainly would not want to miss.

    Fred Homes
    architects Tucson

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