I've spent months with the writings of Anaïs Nin collected in this book, reading much as she might have written them, at night in the hours winding down to sleep a page or two at a time. The writings come from her diaries, written in 1931 and 1932 when she came to know June Miller and her husband, the writer Henry Miller, culminating in a passionate affair with Henry.
The writing here can be fantastic, though as you might expect in a diary, it can also be uneven. There are transcendent passages, even more compelling in many cases than Henry's fictional(ish) accounts of the same world, and it tells in real time the story of a woman awakening to some knowledge in herself she's tried to ignore.
The Millers become a conduit for Nin's sexuality to open in a way she couldn't have imagined. Nin first finds herself enthralled with June then, after June leaves the country, gets drawn into a physical relationship with Henry and she lives the whole affair through her writing. There are entries full of rapture and passion, but there are many others about her doubts and fears. Nin, who was married at the time, struggled with her passion and how her actions could hurt her husband. What's more, she is haunted by the promise of June who holds a strange power over both Henry and Nin and will return at some point threatening their relationship.
If you are the type who reads one book at a time, Henry and June can feel tedious, as I learned during some periods when I was more consistent in my reading. It was not written as a self-contained story so it reflects the uneven way life actually moves. Nin has remarkable character shift in these years but it happens in fits and starts. On one page she may come to a declaration like, "I want passion and pleasure and noise and drunkenness and all evil." But an entry or two later she may again be convinced that Henry is cruel or she is.
If you're able to stick with it, Henry and June is a remarkable book both for Nin's honesty and her ability to charge the writing with such emotion without going over the top. Her cruel moments, her insecurities, her lust, her indiscretions, Nin spreads it all out on the page and we're lucky enough to get to read it.
Henry and June is a great read for this and for anyone who has been avoiding the big questions in their head, about a relationship or sex or work or even religion and politics. Nin's willingness to explore her passion — intellectually, physically and in writing — may embolden us to face the doubts and dark corners of our own minds honestly.
While I liked reading "Tropic of Cancer" and getting a sense as to who Henry Miller was during his sojourn in Paris in the 1930s, it largely came across to me as the rantings of a dissolute American living in the depths of Parisian poverty. And yet, he also offers from time to time some really profound insights on sex, sexuality, and life.
I enjoy to read about bohemian types. Thompson's evocation of Horatio Alger at the end of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is pretty spot on. My adventure novels involve irresponsible artist types blowing all their money on drugs and women in exotic locales. I am not especially proud of this but a dose of conviction is important in a form that leans heavily toward introspection.
Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer is particularly good in this realm because he makes you look at the outcast life for its ugliness as well as its appeal. He doesn't have Kerouac's interesting friend's or Thompson's budget to make things colorful and interesting. He has wild nights but he also has STIs, he has problems securing lodging and food at points, when he does have money he spends it on money and sex workers -- he calls women cunts throughout the novel so its no surprise that he hardly finds any woman to go to bed with him that does not demand payment.
It was mostly good reading as well. He gets carried away at times and can be hard to follow, but largely I enjoyed it. You probably won't love him if you are particularly formal but if you are that hung up on language you will probably be put off by his profanity and willingness to go into detail about anatomy in a less-than-scientific manner.
For all its harshness, I greatly enjoyed the book and would not be surprised if I come back to it again someday.
Nights of Love and Laughter is a little know collection of short stories by Henry Miller. Being a Miller aficionado, it is part of my permanent collection.
Since it is little known (even on Goodreads), I will begin by mentioning that this book was first released by New Directions in 1955 and subsequently released as an inexpensive paperback by Signet Books, also in 1955.
The short stories in this collection are:
The Alcoholic Veteran with the Washboard Cranium
Via Dieppe-New Haven
The Brooklyn Bridge
Poros Harbor is a fragment from his book, The Colossus of Maroussi and presented here as a short story.
Some other shorts from this collection may have also appeared elsewhere, but I do not feel like searching through my Miller collection to find out where.
There are two stories which really stand out in this book - The Alcoholic Veteran with the Washboard Cranium, and the Astrological Fricassee. Each one occupies the opposite spectrum of seriousness, and while the Astrological Fricassee is a rather whimsical tale featuring an overactive astrologist, Gerald, and various personalities he introduces Henry to during a bizarre meeting in New York City, The Alcoholic Veteran tackles the very serious issue of war and it's effect on people.
Told in the typical Miller style of a nonchalant, happenstance meeting with someone. This time, Miller and his friend Rattner meet a drunk in the French Quarter of New Orleans. What happens next is that they Miller and Rattner invite him to have a bite to eat, and the man starts spinning tales that are out of this world.
Whether the meeting ever actually took place in real life or only in Miller's imagination is unimportant. Through this man's tale, Miller spins out a cautionary tale of war and its effect on people. It is simply brilliant.
"Some men, and their number is greater I fear than most of us would like to believe, find war an exciting if not altogether agreeable interruption to the toil and drudgery of common life. The presence of death adds spice, quickens their usually torpid brain cells. But there are others, like our friend who, in their revolt against wanton killing, in the bitter realization that no power of theirs will ever put an end to it, elect to withdraw from society and if possible destroy even the chance of returning to earth again at some distant and more propitious moment in human history. They want nothing more to do with man; they want to nip the experiment in the bud. And of course they are as powerless here as in their efforts to eliminate war. But they are fascinating species of man and ultimately of value to the race, if for no other reason than that they act as semaphores in those periods of darkness when we seem rushing headlong to destruction."