Thursday, January 22, 2009

Prongs - Third Review - Tropic of Cancer

Tropic Of Cancer
By Henry Miller

"I am living at the Villa Borghese. There is not a crumb of dirt anywhere, or a chair misplaced. We are all alone here, and we are dead."

Not too long ago I purchased the Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller, for $1.25 at Half-Price Books. It was probably the best $1.25 I have ever spent in my entire life. Tropic of Cancer is one of those books that you find so rarely in life that grabs a hold of you and never lets go, try as you might to shake it. Tropic of Cancer is a quasi-autobiography that is centered around Miller's life as a 'struggling' writer in Paris before moving to America. Miller incorporates a bit of pre-Gonzo-journalism as he mixes reality with fiction, past with present, and narrative with stream-of-consciousness. Miller said about the title,
"...(it is) symbolic title I had chosen for a number of reasons, primarily because the cancer is the crab, and the crab has the power, or the ability to walk backwards, forwards, sideways, any direction do you see. I liked that symbol, you know? […] Able to go any direction at will, do you see".
The Crab or idea of cancer is probably the most resounding feeling that you are left with after this book. The personal depiction of Miller's lifestyle leaves little to the imagination, but much to be envied. Miller lives a lifestyle that most of us could only dream to live. He sleeps when he wants, eats when he wants, has sex when he wants (and there are some fairly graphic sex scenes), and leaves when he wants. He is not tied down to the responsibility of a 'cancerous' society, and thus can truly live a life that he is content with. He sees the world around him as it truly is; animalistic, void of thought, yet filled with an unrelenting beauty. Miller says of himself, " I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive". He moves like the 'crab' in what ever direction and in what ever way he wants, and he is the only man alive able to do so.

the book that are numerous sexual descriptions that Miller uses as somewhat of a 'shock value' but it is never in a lude or derogatory way. He merely states the truth about his feelings towards sexuality and natural desire. While some of the scenes do get quite detailed, I believe that this was only to force the reader into thinking of sex in ways that we have refused to think about it before. Until novels like this, it was considered some what 'tabboo' to talk about sex in such a public and intimate way. This is the main reason that Miller landed himself on many 'banned books' lists across the world.

As he jumps between narrative and stream-of-consciousness, Miller uses his words in a way that had not been done by any authors until this time. This is what Faulkner wishes he coud be. The scenes that Miller describes, and the relentless thought process behind it, puts you into Miller's head and refuses to let you out. The reader jumps from description to description to idea to idea with out being able to catch a breath. At times Miller goes on such long rants he even forgets the point that he was trying to make to begin with. By putting down every thought that occurs to him with out fear of reprocussion or judgment, Miller writes in a way that is truly free. It is this type of nomadic lifestyle coupled with the stream-of consciousness that makes this book so unique.
"The weather will continue bad... There will be more calamities, more death, more despair. Not the slightest indication of a change anywehre. The cancer of time is eating us away. Our hopes have killed themselves, or are killing themselves. The hero, then, is not Time, but Timelessness. We must get in step, a lock step, toward the prison of death. There is no escape. The weather will not change."
Honestly there is not much more that I can say about this novel. If you do not realise that you are reading something truly revolutionary in the first 20 pages, just put it down, seriously.


  1. This description makes me want to read this book. I'm definitely adding it to the 2009 book list.

  2. Thank you so much! That is the best compliment that we can receive. The entire point of this blog is to get others interested and involved in reading so if any of the posts in any way push you towards something literary than our job is done!

  3. aq wonderful book
    I 've dive on it 25 years back...
    I will read it again

  4. Aw thank you so much for the comment. Yes a reread would definitely be appropriate for this book.

  5. Love the books!!
    Thanks for visiting.... hope you follow soon! :)

  6. Thank you! I'm going to pick this up next time I'm at the bookstore. I've been reading Anais Nin and I wanted to read Miller but didn't know where to start -- so I'll start here. Thanks again!

  7. Glad you enjoyed the review! Make sure to stop back and let us know what you thought!!

  8. Very good choice (and great review), but I highly recommend "Tropic of Capricorn" if you have time. It is my personal favorite of his- a bit more revealing, but just as insightful. Of course, it lacks some of the hilarity of "Cancer" (I'm referring to the scene where the Indian man takes a crap in the bidet).

  9. Thanks Patrick! I almost included that part in the review but I thought it best to let readers be surprised though. I definitely laughed out loud at many parts. Glad you enjoyed the review!! I fully intend on picking up Capricorn as soon as I've made a dent in the pile sitting next to my bed.

  10. I read this book too. Honestly, while I have absolutely no problem with graphic sex, I was absolutely disgusted by the rampant misogyny Miller exhibited. For example, repeatedly referring to women as "c--ts", even in non-sexual contexts. And the part towards the end with his friend's marriage - just horrible. Perfectly in tune with sexist depictions of out-of-control shrews that have a tragically long history in Western literature.

    Miller's a great writer in terms of raw talent, no doubt about that. But God, would I love to punch this jerk.


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