Les Liaisons Dangereuses or Dangerous Liaisons was my first book choice for Riverside Readers. I saw it as if by serendipity in my local second-hand book shop a few days before my choice was to be made and the thing was decided! I haven’t (yet) seen the film version with John Malkovich and Glenn close so my only other frame of reference was Cruel Intentions! Here are my thoughts…
Les Liaisons Dangereuses is set in then parlours and private rooms of French aristocrats in the Eighteenth century. The Marquise de Merteuil and the Viscount de Valmont are rich and bored and basically enjoy manipulating the lives of others in a sort of sparring match of vicious minds. Valmont is bent upon seducing the virtuous Presidente de Tourvel while Merteuil is plotting to corrupt the young Cecile de Volanges who is on the brink of being married to a respectable and rich match. Merteuil wants Valmont to seduce Cecile and ruin her honour, and at the same time she is already being distracted by her music tutor Chevalier Danceny! The drama unfolds in a flurry of letters between the protagonists. As the name of the book suggests the games are dangerous and such complicated drama combined with Machiavellian minds of the worst kind can only lead to destructive consequences.
As you can probably tell from my synopsis, I LOVED Les Liaisons Dangereuses. If you didn’t know any better from reading the synopsis you might assume that you were about to dip into the latest edition of HELLO! magazine. And in a way, it is the same in that you are reading about the crazy lives of the very wealthiest people who have nothing better to do than create mayhem and scandal. Here’s the thing though; the novel is so wonderfully written and the characters so well exposed through the letters that I came away from it feeling as if I’d read something of a bit of a work of art (probably Rococo!). I could almost hear the rustle of skirts disappearing through doorways and imagine the vain and cruel Marquise de Merteuil at her toilette or committing her vile words to paper in a beautiful French boudoir.
I have to admit that at the beginning of the book, the French titles and names were a bit confusing for me (even gender was a bit ambiguous) but I soon got to grips with the characters because of their distinctive voices. The character of the Marquise de Merteuil was fantastically vivid, scheming and manipulative, but strangely forthright in some of her letters. Valmont was also brilliant as the corrupting influence, never ceasing to try a new turn of phrase to convince the Presidente de Tourval to take to his bed.
I wanted to love them both for being so clever and calculating but I couldn’t help but hate them just as much because some of the things that they do are just so morally corrupt as to be quite horrifying.
The character of the 15 year old Cecile was also joy to read Naive but also desiring of male affection she was part free spirit as much as being a pawn in the games of the evil pair. The presidente de Tourval I wasn’t sure of at first, but was impressed by her strong character and reasoned arguments. Her character was genuinely intelligent – an interesting female model to have been created by a male writer of the time.
No one comes out unscathed in Liaisons and it is a very dark and shocking book even by today’s standards. The only bit that I felt I struggled with was the middle of the book where things seem to move more slowly but in hindsight it was important to build up the climax of the novel. I think all the book-groupers felt that the middle bit was somewhat long-winded but that things picked up again quickly towards the end. Mostly I think that the majority enjoyed Les Liaisons Dangereuses, although it wasn’t quite Jackie‘s cup of tea or Kim’s. Simon (Savidge Reads) and Clare (Paperback Reader) have also posted their thoughts meaning you can read different perspectives.
I think that you will probably be able to tell if this is your kind of book or not from the thoughts above and as you can tell by now it’s one of my firm favourites. I really enjoyed this month’s Riverside Readers session, also – especially with all the impassioned discussion!
P.S. I picked up this bookmark while I was in Venice at the weekend and it just occurred to me that the picture is sort of how I imagine the Marquise de Merteuil to look, although obviously French and not Italian!
Have you read Les Liaisons Dangereuses or seen the film Dangerous Liaisons? If not, is this the kind of story that you enjoy or not?