The Torture Garden

The Torture Garden
Octave Mirbeau

Leave it to a Frenchman to come up with an intellectualized version of Hostel (circa 1899) complete with decadent Europeans enjoying live shows of Chinese snuff presented as an allegory of colonialism. Like Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (to which it has often been compared), the stain of horror spreads, until the garden becomes a symbol “of the entire earth” with its “passions, appetites, greed, hatred, and lies.” One of the most bizarre books I’ve read in a while, though the experience was almost ruined by the vile English edition. The aestheticization of violence and blending of torture with horticulture I thought almost de rigueur, but the character of Clara – not a sadist but a voyeur – was fascinating. Her constant humiliation of the narrator and priestess-like role in the proceedings are mysterious and disturbing. A female Kurtz? Not quite, but also something more than a Venus in silks.