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Last Words From Montmarte – Qui Miaojin

Last Words From Montmarte is far afield from my usual reading tastes. It is an experimental epistolary novel published posthumously that is part memoir, serving as a suicide note for Qui Miaojin, and deals substantially with lesbian sexuality. Last Words is necessarily a deeply intimate novel that investigates the emotional anxiety of the narrator, while leaving the other characters as sort of unknowable phantoms and sources of the anxiety as the narrators wants to become intimate with them. Nor is there a strong plot, since the author tells the reader that the letters can be read in any order. As a result, the story–by which I mean the gradual understanding of the narrator’s psyche–unfolds more than progresses, skipping between Paris, Tokyo, and Taipei, and being by turns wrenching, gleeful, depressed, and anxious.

As a technical piece of literature, there was a lot I appreciated about Last Words and I came away understanding why many people connect with it so deeply even though I did not. I generally do not like novels that are this interior unless they also have something else that I can grab onto, largely because unless i feel some sort of kinship with the person being examined, I have a hard time getting into the story. There were moments in this book that I could relate with, particularly to being an outsider, but it has been a long time since I have been even remotely this lovesick and so many of the other defining characteristics of both the characters and the social circles were so far beyond my personal experience that I often ended up almost forcing myself to read the book in a way that was not altogether enjoyable. As noted, though, this is more a “me” problem than a problem with Last Words which is not meant necessarily to explain anything to the reader so much as to give an emotional jolt. That emotional jolt just didn’t land as cleanly as it might have for me for all those different reasons.

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Next up, I am currently reading Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature and just started Ursula K. le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.