Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
I'm one of those people that enjoys reading books that were 'controversial' in their own time, and I've been meaning to read this one for a while. The film Cruel Intentions is based on it, and Marie Antoinette is rumored to have had a secret bound copy.
Synopsis: Two members of the French aristocracy, the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquis de Meurtil engage in a number of plots, among them the seduction/corruption of an innocent teenage girl in love and ruining the career of an aristocrat. Told through letters written between the various characters.
Score: 3.5 out of 5.
This book took me a long time to read - it was one to savour slowly rather than rush through. The letters were often long and full of flowery language (declarations of love etc), but this was part a satire of the French aristocracy before the revolution and part of the appeal of the book.
For me the best part of the book was the characterisation. It's quite a challenge to write letters from at least six different characters, each of whom has different relationships with everyone else, whilst at the same time making them all seem real and well developed. This was done very effectively by the author; all of the characters had a distinct 'voice'. The contrast between the letters written by the Marquis de Meurtil was particularly good: in one letter she could be polite and considerate, in another, scheming and manipulative, all whilst retaining the sense that it was definitely her writing the letters.
The book also felt surprisingly modern in it's take on emotions and relationships, which is perhaps why it was so controversial when it was published. Today, it's hard to imagine anyone taking offense to it. It's greatest crime at the time was being too honest about not everyone being a nice person, and worse, that women could be just as manipulative and 'evil' as men.
Overall, it was an enjoyable read, although it occasionally felt like an effort. Definitely something more easy going coming up next.