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?