The Necrophiliac

Gabrielle Wittkop’s The Necrophiliac was first published in France in 1972. Now, thanks to author and filmmaker Don Bapst’s deft translation, Anglophones can explore this world of blossoming bruises and unrequited love. The diary of Lucien, our titular necrophiliac, is filled with restrained prose that often bursts into beautiful poetry. Fitting for the poncy Parisian antique storeowner, his writing is infused with lofty motifs, most strikingly with images of the Greek goddess Hecate. Similar to Hecate, Lucien straddles the threshold between the living and dead. He is kind and timid to the living, sliding like oil through the social tides of everyday life. Later, he returns home to romance carcasses with a startling range of emotions, from quick-sated lust to rapid-onset love. No corpse lasts longer than about two weeks in his chilled and perfumed apartment. Instead, he immortalizes them in his diary: Suzanne, a delicate woman whose husband Lucien imagines mourning his wife at home; two nymph-like, drowned Swedish twins, whose bond Lucien honours by intertwining their bodies on the bed of a hotel room. He feels no self-pity for his condition. In his mind, necrophiliac love is pure “because it doesn’t need to be paid in return.”
Lucien’s pathos and Wittkop’s intimate diary-entry structure clinches his likeability, teasing out our sympathy and trapping us in it. In following his stomach-turning endeavours the reader becomes a complicit voyeur. “Suzanne, my beautiful lily,” he laments, “the joy of my soul and of my flesh, had started to marbleise with violet patches.” With its abrupt and disorienting ending, Wittkop seems to suggest we have survived something: perhaps a garbled glimpse at the darkest part of ourselves. (Victoria Hetherington)

Gabrielle Wittkop, (trans. Don Bapst), 91 pgs, ECW Press, ecwpress.com, $16.95

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