Book Review: A Spy in the House of Love

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Image description: the book rests on a bed of rusty orange rocks and leaves. The white cover features several different decorated chocolates and a naked woman crouching so the viewer sees only her back.

Anais Nin is perhaps the reigning empress in erotica, known for two posthumously published erotica short story collections, Delta of Venus and Little Birds.

 

As a literary figure she appears veiled in mystery and sensual secrecy even though she wrote about affairs, incest, and the poetry of sexuality. Perhaps we just like to confuse complicated for mysterious. Nin was an established author in her lifetime.

 

Though I own both her erotica collections, I chose to read her novel “A Spy in the House of Love” first. This book was published when she was alive in 1954. And though not explicitly defined as erotica, the work is brimming with sensual lyricism, lustful texture, and a simultaneously humorous and sharp wit.

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Image description: On a wood porch rail three Anais Nin books are stacked: Delta of Venus, Little Birds, and A Spy in the House of Love. Green trees are blurred in the background.

I suppose some readers may approach Nin’s work as they would approach Nabokov’s “Lolita” – in search of shocking, depraved sexuality in print form. But this book does not portray the physical act of the affair, rather explores the reverberating affects of body, mind, and soul. The book is thoroughly poetic, I felt as though I were at times reading stanzas rather than prose.

 

I marked several lines in the novel that rang true for me, though I question whether or not they meant to me what Nin intended them to mean. This book was very much like music for me as a reader: I took the lines I could apply to my truth even if that truth was somewhat disassociated with the plot of the story.

 

I personally didn’t relate to the guilt and the fragmentation of identity that are themes in the book. I did, however, love the metaphor of her as a spy, especially in correlation to how society would react to her main character as a woman doing the things she does throughout the story.

 

I was reminded of reading Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening,” for some reason, probably because both novels are intricate character sketches of the main character, with some common themes. I enjoyed Nin’s work, more, however, and, as the opening scene illustrates, Sabina reminded me of a flame – dangerous, but about to burn out.

 

Like the character herself, there were parts of this book I drank like water and some that were quite tedious to get through. Still, I enjoyed the book overall. It was quite philosophical. Readers preferring a quick plot and action that takes place outside of the character rather than inward speculation might have problems getting through. The book is short, only 123 pages, and I found a great introduction to Anais Nin. I plan to read more of her work, because she writes with an excellent grasp of the workings of her characters, which tremendously reflects real life.

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