I finally finished the second book in my Winter Classics Challenge, Henry and June. I vaguely remember watching the film when it came out, and we own the soundtrack, which is lovely, but I don’t remember a lot about the movie, other than that I liked it. If you’re not familiar with Henry and June, it’s the journal of Anaïs Nin, written in France during a year of sexual awakening, in which she becomes involved with writer Henry Miller and his wife, June. In the beginning of the book, Anaïs finds herself drawn to June, and they share a kiss. June leaves France and returns to New York and the arms of her lover, Jean, and Anaïs becomes romantically involved with Henry. What follows is a very intense affair, which emotionally shakes Anaïs to the core. She enters psychoanalysis, and re-evaluates her marriage, as well as her views of sexuality.
The writing itself is wonderfully evocative, though if you don’t like the ‘f’ word used graphically, this book isn’t for you. The problem for me, though, was that this book is taken from Nin’s journal, and thus it lacks the structure of a novel. There is a feeling of wondering where the heck it is all going. She loves Henry, she hates Henry, she loves June, she hates June, she loves Hugo (her husband), she hates Hugo. In her deft hands, the morality of it all is seldom questioned, and she seems to feel that she is above the morals that shackle the rest of us. While I was reading the book, I didn’t feel badly that Henry was sleeping with Anaïs, because hell, his wife is in New York with her lover, so really has no reason to complain. But Hugo has no knowledge of his wife’s extracurricular activities, and has no idea that she is supporting Henry’s writing and lifestyle with the money he gives her for stockings, clothing, perfume, etc. I believe the term is cuckold.
The first 1/2 of the book was intriguing, and I was compelled by the desire to see how it would end. But eventually I became bored and somewhat disgusted by the participants in this story. I’m not sure if I would recommend this book or not. The writing is notable for its beauty and brutal truth, and as Nin became famous for writing erotica, it is interesting to see the inspiration she found, but I can’t say I really enjoyed it. I’m happy to be moving on to another classic. Maybe Madame Bovary, another tale of a wayward wife. On the other hand, maybe I can’t handle any more of that right now…perhaps I’ll pick up one of my other classics first.