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Desert Love Henry de Montherlant

Desert Love

Henry de Montherlant

Published 1959
173 pages
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 About the Book 

This must be one of Montherlarlant´s worst books. In the preface, he confesses that he ripped out this love story from his much longer, and more political, 1932 novel The Sand Rose. However, disregard the garish cover and the suggestive title, there is very little love in this novel.The translation, and perhaps even the book, has dated badly- the french military all speak in grating 1930s music-hall British soldiering slang. However it does convey a sense of european bungling of the colonial question in a lonely French Saharan outpost. Lieutenant Lucien Auligny, a rather mediocre offshoot from a military-minded family is shipped out to the Sahara in his domineering mother´s hope of furthering his career. He has no internal resources to fall on and is soon bored to tears and buys a fourteen or fifteen year old arab mistress with whom he never really manages to communicate, which is hardly surprising considering that he incapable of understanding himself. At the height of his increasingly dull obsession, he convinces himself of his enlightened empathy with the arab people but eventually finds out he has been a figure of mockery all along.The novel is unsuccessful because we feel very little sympathy for the petty, bovine protagonist, the arabs are perfunctorily pencilled in and even Ramie, the young girl never really comes alive, plus the story makes us uncomfortably aware of Montherlant´s own pederast tendencies. The most interesting character, Pierre de Giscart, a childhood friend of Auligny, an artist, a compulsive and addicted womanizer makes a brief appearance, sees the hopelessness of the storyline and wisely exits the book. The story could belong to Somerset Maugham´s very early stories about young officers buried in farflung colonial outposts- it also hopelessly reminds one of Joseph Conrad´s superb psychological studies of outcasts living on the edges of crumbling colonial empires. Sadly, the author´s evident distate and lampooning of his main character hamstrings the novel from the start.