Sunday, November 11, 2007

Alberto Moravia: Conjugal Love

Alberto Moravia's Conjugal Love suffers a little in comparison to his Contempt which essentially tackles the same subject at a somewhat greater length and in more detail. This is not to say that this book is any bad, indeed from every possible standard it is quite accomplished. Like Contempt it is narrated by a young struggling writer who is trying to understand the nature of love and marriage and also trying hard to come to terms with his own self-worth as a writer. Like Contempt, its central subject is the disease of hyper self-consciousness too - hyper-rationalistic and analytic way of looking at everything, the mania for understanding every nuance of a feeling, to discover the meaning of every gesture, looking at everything as if everything were a sign and then despairing over one's failure to do so or finding emptiness where one suspected there must be something.

The basic story of the novel is the stuff of farce. The narrator whisks off himself with his wife to a villa in Tuscany thinking that isolation will perhaps inspire him to write the masterpiece that is inside him. But when no such inspiration comes over him, he suspects the reason might be the way he has been dissipating his energies in the carnal affairs. He decides to abstain from sex and soon enough his creative juices start flowing or at least that's what he feels initially. Things get more complicated because of the presence of a libertine and portly barber (yes, a barber) in the house.

Although the basic plot summary sounds funny, the book is quite sombre and melancholy in tone. The narrator longs for a life driven by instinct, full of spontaneity and passion, a life in which actions and gestures are driven by genuine feelings and not by conscious calculation. These are the traits which attracts him to his wife and it is this fundamental difference in the ways of looking at the world, (which I suspect Moravia thinks is representative of the two genders) that makes the analysis of this "conjugal love" so much interesting. The book is actually quite funny too, in its own dry and pedantic way. The way he obsesses about every detail of his own feelings, his rationalizations, the maniacal analysis of ordinary situations making them more complex than they actually are, all again in the service of self-denials and rationalizations - these are all funny to read but in the end a bit discomforting too (specially if you share his sensibilities and proclivities).

A review with links to other reviews here. Earlier post on Contempt here.


KUBLA KHAN said...

how can a novel be called conjugal love? or is that bad translation?
just is the savage detectives going on?

Alok said...

Why, is that an oxymoron? The narrator calls it "an odd mixture of violent devotion and legitimate lust" which sounds a bit suspicious, though I wouldn't know because I have not experienced it yet.

Been very busy lately. Started Savage Detectives and read around 50 or so pages but haven't made much progress after that. These small books are done in just one or two sittings which is an ideal way to read when you don't have enough time to read on a regular basis.

Madhuri said...

Seems like Tejpal completely lifted the plot for his book 'Alchemy of Desire' from this one. I thought only Indian 'Movie-makers' got inspired!

Alok said...

I haven't read Alchemy of Desire but the synopsis does sound similar.