Book review: Delta of Venus

Posted by Bel. The time is 4.30pm here in Wellington, NZ.

The search results on Wellington Central Library's computer told me that I had to go to the enquiries desk to locate the copy of Anais Nin's Delta of Venus.

'That's a bit weird', I thought, but then told myself perhaps it meant the book was in the process of being put into stack (like so many of the great books I've read off 'The List'), or maybe they were putting on a new layer of that clear coverall that librarians seem to like so much.

But twas not so. The man behind the counter delicately handed over the large hard-cover edition of Delta of Venus and I was faced with a garish sticker on the front: "NOT TO BE ISSUED TO THOSE UNDER 16 YEARS: INDECENT PUBLICATIONS ACT".

He didn't I.D. me, and so I just scuttled off to the issues desk. (Yes, that is the same cover up there, but I foolishly forgot to get a real photo of the blush-inducing label.)

The book is a collection of short stories, conjured up in the 1940s by Nin and her circle of friends, reportedly for a patron who paid $1 per page and demanded she strip the stories of their poetry and just get to, you know, the good stuff.

At the time, Nin was one of the only women in the world writing erotica and despite the benefactor's instructions, there is a sensuality and atmosphere to the writing which lifts it above the sort of 'Penthouse Forum' stuff of our modern times. (Forum? That's right, right? Where readers have supposedly written in? With their randomly raunchy tales of explicit seduction?? I don't want to google it to check on my work computer. But blog I shall, dammit!)

The content of Delta of Venus leaves conventional romance far behind. The opening stories present paedophilia and incest, confronting and challenging what we can regard as sexually acceptable. I can't really recall any stories where two adults indulged in a consenting relationship of harmonious love - everything was twisted. For example, when a couple meet on a train and realise they are perfect for one another, it is because they are both depraved exhibitionists who have been using the train ride as a perfect opportunity to fondle their exposed genitals in front of innocent passersby. Aaawh, how cute! See you guys at the wedding! Remember to wear pants!

From bestiality to necrophilia (one of my favourite stories - except that, oh yeah, gross, the woman was dead and had just been fished up from out of the river, *shudder*), there is no stone unturned, or legs gone unspread. Some characters reappear, but it doesn't have a 'plotline' as such, although the theme of exploration and freeing the self from inhibitions, is unsurprisingly prominent.

PS You guys, do you know how difficult it was to write this without puns?? I just had to put in 'difficult' instead of 'hard' because it made me snort laugh.

PPS I only knew who Anais Nin was previous to reading this because of the Jewel song. You know (2m 28s).

The Delta of Venus by Anais Nin. Recommended, if you're up for it, ooh err. AND OVER 16 YEARS.
Published in 1978. Set in Paris, 1940s.
#44 from 'The List'

2 thoughts on “Book review: Delta of Venus”

  1. This one at least I've read. Actually and very weirdly I read it in the 2nd flat I had in London in Honor Oak Park where I was living on an artist's floor and he'd get up at 3am to paint.

    I nearly killed him. Bloody painters.

    Great book though. Shame you didn't er, 'go for it' with the puns

    PS the word verification I have to type in is 'hoeser'... Ha ha ha