Review: Story of the Eye – Georges Bataille

books-and-authors-i-love-3-revisedGeorges Bataille’s Story of the Eye was one of the earliest novels I devoured when I decided to read erotica ‘seriously’ and first drew up my list of books I thought I should read. Well, you can forget about breaking me in gently!

One the classic pieces of erotic writing of the Twentieth Century, this short novel follows the young male narrator and his lover, from their first erotic encounters with each other, through their sadistic tortuous sex play with Marcelle, their young and impressionable lover-come-victim, to increasingly transgressive and sacrilegious acts, dragging others along for the ride as they go. I won’t spoil it for you, but the sex play, and the search for the next erotic thrill (or orgy, defilement, or violence) carries the reader on an almost surreal journey to the their final act, one which breaks a whole of societal codes.

Written and published under the pseudonym ‘Lord Auch’ in 1928, it has remained Bataille’s most notorious work, although he wrote various other fiction and non-fiction works (Eroticism  and Literature And Evil I particularly recommend as his non-fiction contributions). This book has been described in its own blurb as ‘exlicit pornographic fantasy’, yet Bataille admits to its resemblance of various real life coincidences. I was once told that all the best fiction contains an element of truth, and I endeavour to stick by that when I’m writing. But quite where the lines blur in this tale of eroticism, fetishism and extreme thrill-seeking, I don’t know. And I wonder if I would really want to.

I may be wrong in saying that I love this book; each time I read it, I’m not exactly sure what to make of it. But it is an utterly fascinating piece of literature. I said at the beginning that this was an early erotic read for me. I remember sitting on the train and being extraordinarily turned on that I was reading this book (a physical paperback copy) while other people sat in such close proximity to me. This has happened so many times to me on public transport as people have tried to hide their e-reader copy of Fifty Shades of Grey from public eyes. Reading Fifty Shades was like reading the Beano by comparison. If only they’d known what I was reading…

In re-reading it before writing this blog post, I was struck by something else, too – by my lack of horror at the increasing level of atrocity performed as the the narrator and his lover, Simone, journey through an increasingly macabre narrative, in their search for bigger thrills and stronger erotic stimulus. What that says about me I’m not quite sure, and it certainly left me questioning myself. I have to admit to being a complete mystery fiction obsessive, so maybe. on a personal level, my mind is attuned to reading about various levels of atrocity. But to combine it with the erotic? Where does that leave any form of moral code we live by? is it OK to break it here, because it’s fiction? Is it that, like the characters in the book, once the experience has past then reliving the same one lessens its impact, so that more is needed to create the feeling of excitement (however abhorrent the act itself may be)? I felt that I knew myself less – and more – after reading this book.

If you never explore Georges Bataille’s work further, I would urge you to read Story of the Eye and make up your own mind over the questions it raises.

Take a closer look at Story of the Eye on Amazon.

7 thoughts on “Review: Story of the Eye – Georges Bataille

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  1. Never read this book or heard of the author. I don’t think it will be at the local library. You raise an interesting point though. I can remember borrowing my mother’s murder mysteries as a youngster, the classic English authors, and not being bothered by the numerous deaths and violent manner depicted. Yet, real life murder is very upsetting. I have always wondered how my mind differentiates between fiction and reality.

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    1. If you can lay your hands on a copy (can you order one at the library?) I would really recommend it for you. I would love to know what you think of it.

      I do think there’s a tendency, certainly with mystery fiction written in the 1920s and 30s, to read and almost negate the violence that has taken place in order for the story ‘proper’ to start. And this was always the authors’ intentions – British mystery fiction of the era was written with the purpose of making the mystery, not the blood and violence, the primary concern. It was a way of detracting from the horrors of World War I. The backlash to this over the pond was left in the capable hands of Raymond Chandler et al, and their gritty realism.

      Certainly, I wondered, as I read Story of the Eye again last night, whether I had been desensitised to the macabre, in this book and maybe in fiction in general. I wondered, too, at where I draw the line at what I deem to be erotic in fiction and in reality, and what I consider to be a step too far. Is there such a thing, if it remains in fiction? Can a reader undermine their own erotic tastes when what they experience happens in the sheets of a book and not between their own? This is such a strange book, and one which, I think, leaves a reader with far more questions than answers.

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  2. I started reading this between other books (I often read several books at a time) and at first I was horrified at the dismissive death of a small girl that the narrator and Simone run down, but I was soon hooked. This book is a total mind fuck. Love it. I defy anyone to read this and not be moved one way or another.

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    1. I couldn’t agree with you more! I don’t know if I’ll find anything that will surpass this book for its lethal mixture of depravity and eroticism (I still don’t know if it IS eroticism that I take from some of this). If anyone wants a boundary pushing book on a social and moral level, this is it.

      And yeah, I frequently read several books at once, too (not literally 🙄). They’re hardly ever similar. You’ve only got to look at my Goodreads page to see that! I swear that’s something to do with my flutterby brain wanting to work on several things at once!

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  3. This is a superb post about one of the strangest novels I have ever read. I don’t recall enjoying it much (or finding it terribly erotic), but it is certainly fascinating. It has a wild, surreal and raw quality that is quite exciting, at the same time as its pornographic, explicit and violent character is disturbingly horrific. It also reads as if it was written in a mad, fantastic burst over no more than a day or so. I’ve often thought of it as a kind of spiritual godfather to some of the fast, unpolished erotica that many writers produce today. And that’s not a criticism, because when it is done really well it can be brilliant in the same way that the best punk rock had a wild brilliance.

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    1. I remember when you read it; no, you really didn’t enjoy it particularly, and I vividly recall us calling into question its distinctive take on eroticism. I have to say that I’m still not sure I’ll ever be fully content with my thoughts on this book, or of my opinions of the excesses that take place.

      I understand exactly what you’re saying about a frenzy of writing, and the rawness of fast-produced work. I know from experience – particularly in my erotica – that some of my best stories are the ones that have spilled themselves onto the page in some kind of torrid orgasm of thought and realisation. I like that rawness; editing it out can take away the power of the story’s passionate essence.

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