Gérard, a young orphan provincial squire, was brought up by his uncle, a fallen courtier. The young man is under the legal tutelage of this distant uncle and isolates himself in his dreams of a return to favor. Gérard’s only maternal presence will be a peasant woman, Marianne, who has become his nurse by order of the Count. Gérard will grow up away from the world and its customs. He cultivates himself in his uncle’s library, learns the use of arms with a former soldier, travels the countryside and paints. An innocent.
And then one day, at the beginning of the summer of her 17th birthday, Camille arrives. Young scion of a family of high nobility with a beauty as epic as his first name. This visitor will make this summer the most important moment in Gérard’s life. A journey of no return.
To say more about the course of the story would be to reveal what should not be. This novel is an initiation novel. Camille is the worm in Gérard’s innocence. She is going to take him where he had never imagined going, to make him discover the dark continent of sex, of his sex. And he will simply follow her. Our nice savage of the libido has no prejudice which allows him to open his eyes wide in front of the splendors that show him Camille and Mariette, his servant. He will never let go of the hand of his guide, a tempting Eurydice rising from the Underworld to take her naive Orpheus to the depths of its darkness.
Camille has a “bataillian” sex, a sex that tastes like a shroud, a sugary smell of corruption and the acrid smell of a battlefield. Léo Barthe places his novel at the end of the 18th century, that of the Enlightenment, and he also uses its language. And what language! The style is delicious. The erotic vocabulary is very rich. He avoids pastiche, stylistic parody to give us to read and hear the vocabulary of sex in its own juice. We fornicate in the imperfect subjunctive, we swoon with a formidable semantic richness. How not to be delighted to read “Take care not to slip away!” or “… I just don’t want you to lose anything that bothers you and yells at you.”, don’t have fun with Camille and Gérard who play with the concordance of times:
I would have preferred that you bugger me
Still, sir, you had to show me your ass so that I skated it beforehand.
There is such a love of language in Leo Barthe, such a mastery that the erotic vocabulary, the images never seem outdated or ridiculous.
The author does not only borrow the vocabulary of the past. We also find in Camille the influence of the Enlightenment, of the philosophy of the 19th century as well as of the authors and erotic artists of these two centuries. We find ourselves evoking, among others, Rousseau, Sade, Olympe de Gouge, Masoch, Freud and the Courbet oforigin of the world but without heaviness, without encyclopedic pretensions; this is not a literary “dick contest”. Léo Barthe even manages, in the story of the Sadean initiation of the young Camille, to pay homage to the divine marquis but in a much lighter, much more disturbing style without losing its subversive character.
I warmly recommend this book. Get ready to go deeper and deeper with Gérard into Camille’s desires. Get ready to enjoy what you see there. And that is the great success of the novel: giving us to see and appreciate enjoyment in all its forms, even the most frightening.
PS: Criticizing “Camille” for our Camille was for me a most delightful mise en abyss.
Note from Camille: I would have read Camille too, but an ill-intentioned spirit stole it from the editorial staff of L’Express…
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Discover with “Camille” the dark continent of sex
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