Henry and June

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.

11 thoughts on “Henry and June

  1. I can see where wondering where the the story was going would get old after a while. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this book. Thanks for the great review!

  2. Anais Nin, Frida Kahlo and so many of these other creative women lead such fascinating, but emotionally wrecking lives. I would like to read more about Anais Nin, perhaps I should look for a good biography. Don’t think I would pick up “Henry and June”, but I enjoyed reading your review, very much!

  3. Py, do you remember the movie as being disjointed as well? I honestly don’t remember much about the movie, so I couldn’t say. If it was, at least they were true to the book! 😉

    Thanks ML and Beenzzz…I’m hoping my next one will be better as well, it’s about voodoo in Jamaica and Haiti!

    Lotus, emotionally wrecking is just the thing I was looking for…at one point, Nin states, “Both Henry and I hate happiness!” I wonder what it is in some people that makes them search for the super exciting lifestyle, even knowing that it will be at the expense of the happiness of themselves and those they love?

  4. You just asked a question which I will never understand. Why do poeople choose to be so self destructive? Even revel in it?

    That is something staid old me just can’t figure out. And I’m wondernig if the people that do it really know why either.

  5. I still think of “old times” as being so prim and proper and full of society functions. I never really think of trists and sexual experimentation, expression and discovery. Perhaps this is just the picture which had been painted for me to believe.

  6. Wow, what a book. He’s with she,she’s with she, she with he, and he’s with no one. You are really patient to sit down with these long winded classics.

  7. I don’t mind the “f” word, but that reminds me of how my parents still go to the movies and then come out with a running count of how many times they heard the “f” word.

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