The Girl with the Golden Eyes by Honore de Balzac (Trans. Charlotte Mandell)
Not recommended unless you are a lit student who has to read one of his works.
The Girl with the Golden Eyes is right a novella and at 120 pages, starts 40 pages too late and ends a good 5-10 pages too soon. It is the story of Henri, a morally-lacking, unacknowledged bastard son with the 19th century equivalent of a trust fund who falls in lust with and pursues the titular golden-eyed girl.
The liner notes promise that “incest, homosexuality, sexual slavery, and violence combine in what was then, and still remains, a shocking and taboo-breaking work.” The problem is that Blazac didn’t have half the balls of de Sade or Sacher-Masoch. Actually, in terms of content and style, it does have the texture of Venus in Furs. By that, I mean it has a reputation that disappoints unless you’re a student of abnormal psychology.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just jaded, but I found nothing shocking at all.
I’ll grant the homosexuality (lesbian lovers), and after the curtains close or if you squint really hard, possibly, maybe, the possibility of incest, but to me it was a lot of foreshadowing with a crappy payoff. And maybe if you squint there’s… well, no. If you’re interested in sex slaves, his Venus in Furs, the net, or Ann Rice’s Beauty series. Don’t waste your money on an author who wasted a third of his novella on political and moral whining.
On the positive, the main character’s best friend, Paul, is a breath of sarcastic and rational fresh air. He and Henri are mutually using each other for social standing, but seem genuinely connected for all their posturing. I found myself hoping to see more of Paul despite his exposition-boy role. I was even hoping he was part of the promised homosexual carousing. (Even the third in a three-way. I’m not that picky in the “shock” department.)
I will also grant that Balzac has a wonderful grasp of language. (Or perhaps his translator Charlotte Mondell does.) His dialog between the boys sparkles and I have a feeling that he’d have made his more dangerous female shine, if he’d given us a few more pages. Sadly, I didn’t care enough about Golden-Eyes and her inevitable-ham-handedly-foreshadowed end to have any emotion beyond “finally, she shut up.”
If you want to be shocked, titillated, and/or have your taboos broken, go read some Heinlein and leave Honore on the shelf.