Torture Garden, By Octave Mirbeau trs Michael Richardson

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The Independent Culture

A fin de siècle horror story, this rebarbative novel begins with a group of cynical French intellectuals discussing murder; one of their number announces that he has an extraordinary story to recount. There follows a section in which the narrator criticises the hypocritical French society that exiled him to the Orient. This is, as it were, the entrance money: the narrator then takes a mistress, Clara, who takes him to visit the garden of a Chinese prison where, amid the peonies and peach trees, inmates are tortured to death in a variety of revolting ways, to the delight and sexual excitation of Clara.

To take one of the milder examples, one man is skinned and then forced to walk around for the amusement of his tormentors. The suggestion seems to be that if you don't like this sort of thing then you are cowardly, bourgeois and hypocritical. In his introduction, Brian Stableford writes that Torture Garden "is provocatively disagreeable and essentially indigestible". I certainly couldn't digest it, and wouldn't want to.

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