I honestly had no clue what to expect from The Child of Pleasure. I had heard of its author before in history class back in college, but up until now I had never read anything of his work. I was under the impression that he wrote poetry, a medium that I’m less fond of. Of course, this is where university comes in again.
The Child of Pleasure follows the life of a young Italian aristocrat named Andrea Sperelli as he seeks beauty in every aspect of his life; this includes his love life as he pursues two women throughout the book. One is a young widow named Elena, who lives a life of luxury and flirts her way through scores of salons and parties, but has to suddenly leave him. The other is a married woman named Maria, who dotes on her daughter and has essentially forsaken earthly pleasures to pursue virtue. At first, he courts them separately, only meeting Maria after Elena has been absent from his life for over a year; later, when they are both near enough for him to court, he decides to try and initiate affairs with them both, incensed after their separate pleas to him to love them as sisters.
I suppose that what I ought to mention as probably the best part of this novel is the writing. The skill with which this world of decadence is described is par none; I can’t think of an author, off the top of my head, that has managed to describe sensuality with this much skill and detail. Reading The Child of Pleasure actually feels decadent, simply because of the detail that is given to the clothing, the scenery, the smells, all of that stuff that a lot of novels tend to skim over a bit. Even filtered through translation, the author’s skill in this respect is clear to see. I would recommend this to anyone who is happy to read something with beautiful writing.
Onto the other big aspect, the plot. It’s pretty strong on its own; the aesthete who is so wrapped up in the lies that he has convinced himself off fooling those around him. I only have two problems with it: one is general, the other is a specific thing that I found out regarding the translation. Okay, so first, the general problem. I thought the ending lacked punch. You would think that after lying to two women in order to get both of them to have affairs with him, he would get his comeuppance big time, except he doesn’t, not really; okay, so it’s implied that society somehow knows what he was doing and mocks him for it, but so what? That’s hardly the heavy payment that must be made for a life revolving around the aesthetics and the senses. Now to the translated version’s problem. When I started reading this, I had been told by my lecturer that the translation has some problems, but not how. I later learned that the English translator changed the order of the chapters, so that it would be chronological; the first chapter in the Italian is over halfway through the book in the translated version. Looking back at the chapter in question, I can definitely see why that one was the chapter that D’Annunzio started on: it sets up a mystery around who this woman Elena is, as well as showing some of the Count’s later selfishness. Don’t get me wrong, the translation is in other ways very good, especially when it comes to the writing, as seen in my previous paragraph. I just don’t see the point of changing the order: I mean it’s not as if novels haven’t started in medias res before. I guess I just wish that I could have read it in the order that the author had intended it to be read in.
Overall, definitely a book to be picked up, simply for the writing alone. If you’re interested in this, and can speak Italian, I would try and read it in the original language, simply to appreciate the author’s intent better. As it is, I would still recommend the translation, just with a few criticisms in mind. 4.5/5
Next review: Dirty Hands by Jean-Paul Sartre