“Netsuke”

Netsuke

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Rikki Ducornet’s 2011 novel, published by the fantastic Coffee House Press. I read a first edition paperback from the library.

Buy the Book.

4 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

A married psychiatrist beds everyone – waitresses, tax consultants, clients, men, women.

This, my friends, is what I wanted American Psycho and Ballard’s Crash to be.

Netsuke is separated into two parts – the first from the psychiatrist’s point of view (in all his arrogant assholery), the second giving perspective to his wife Akiko and two of his clients (who believe they are his sole affair). Ducornet moves between first person and third person with subliminal ease. The writing itself is beautiful, the language graphic and unflinching. There is a thinly veiled madness here, even when our narrator speaks of the simplicity of dinner or his wife’s decorations.


[1] Opening quote by Joe Bousquet.

Joe Bousquet (1897-1950) was a French poet. He was paralyzed in the First World War and lived a mostly bedridden life. He became friends with the surrealists, and his poetry is often associated with them.


One

[2] Reference (and why is part of this italicized?)

The whore who brought down Enkidu, who showed him the things a woman knows how to do.

(p.3)

 

Enkidu (“Enki’s creation”), formerly misread as Eabani, is a central figure in the Ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh. Enkidu was formed from clay and water by Aruru, the goddess of creation, to rid Gilgamesh of his arrogance. In the story he is a wild man, raised by animals and ignorant of human society until he is bedded by Shamhat.

I’m not sure about the italics. Is the story referred to as “the whore who brought down Enkidu”? Is this a common phrase?

[3]

For a client, fucking the doctor is always perceived as a triumph.

(p.7)

[4] References:

She could be my daughter, this overheated wench worthy of Wycherley. (She’d play Lucy, the buxom lady’s maid.)

(p.11)

 

William Wycherley (1641-1716) was an English dramatist of the Restoration period, best known for the plays The Country Wife and The Plain Dealer (I believe Lucy is a character in The Country Wife).

[5] Reference:

I made her a kir, got out the snacks.

(p.12)

 

Kir is a popular French cocktail made with a measure of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) topped up with white wine.

[6]

I never forget that I am dealing with people who, despite their determinisms, their needful tenderness, their pride, can at any moment decide to kill me or call their lawyers.

(p.15)

[7] Akiko’s dialogue. This is… it’s great. I feel like I’m watching a play:

“After all this time together and still there is so much I don’t understand. Your work is strange!” she laughed, perhaps benevolently. “But. Understand. It’s hard to think about, you know, the women, hour after hour, talking about their sexual lives. I’m not always – how could I be? Up for it. I mean: the knowledge of that.”

(p.18-19)

[8]

My patients thrive, actually. How could it be otherwise? We all love to be desired; fucking makes our day.

(p.22)

[9] References:

Netsuke. The frottages of Max Ernst.

(p.23-24)

 

Netsuke are miniature sculptures that were invented in 17th-century Japan to serve a practical function (the two Japanese characters ne+tsuke mean “root” and “to attach”). They were originally used to secure a cord holding small containers shut. Over time, they evolved from being strictly utilitarian into objects of great artistic merit and an expression of extraordinary craftsmanship.

Max Ernst (1891-1976) invented the art technique of frottage – a technique that uses pencil rubbings of objects as a source of images.

(I am familiar with the other definition of frottage: the practice of touching or rubbing against the clothed body of another person in a crowd as a means of obtaining sexual gratification.)

[10]

Fucking, at its best, is silent. And yet what I have learned in my Practice is this: people want to talk about it all the time.

(p.25)

[11] Reference:

We are taken by a small series in the style of Yoshimura Shuzan, who was, Taka tells us, the greatest carver of all time.

(p.30)

From The British Museum:

Yoshimura Shuzan (painter/draughtsman; Japanese; Male; 1700 – 1773) (…)

Biography

Painter, active in Osaka. Studied under a Kano School artist Niekawa Mitsunobu. Awarded the ‘Hogen’ rank.

 

From a V&A listing of a netsuke:

From the 18th century, netsuke were increasingly signed with the carver’s name. This example is signed ‘Shuzan’. Yoshimura Shuzan was a painter and netsuke carver, who died in 1773. He was reputed to have carved netsuke mostly from cypress, a soft wood that wears down relatively easily. It is quite probably that it was for this reason that he originally started painting his carvings. Through wear and tear the coloured surface rubbed off in parts, resulting in a pleasing effect, as shown here.

Although this example is signed, Shuzan is known not to have signed his netsuke, which makes identifying genuine works extremely difficult.

[12] The construction of this sentence, especially the final comma, is odd but the overall effect is wonderful:

Later, the university years, those distant evenings when I sat talking with friends over coffee – a thing I am less and less able to do; I wonder why? I have of late, grown increasingly impatient with language and all the rest.

(p.48)

[13]

You fill a house with precious things; they break. You fill a heart with precious things; it breaks. In the end it all breaks. All night long I hear bones snapping.

(p.53)

[14]

I am not used to bravery. Not from men. Not from women.

(p.60)


Two

[15]

Is it possible? Is the world as strange as this? No, she decides. It cannot be as strange as this.

(p.85)

[16] Vocabulary:

Even the towels (…) are luxuriously sized and of a rich, indeterminate color, like a warm sand of nacreous shells.

(p.86)

 

Nacre is also known as mother of peral.

[17]

She does not want to be harmed. She wants to flicker like the Aurora Borealis. She wants to be harmed. She wants to bleed like a severed aorta. She wants to be safe. She wants to be safe. She never wants to bleed again.

(p.92)

[18] References:

“A Mascara would be great, actually,” she says. “I’m making a tagine.”

(p.94)

 

Mascara is a province in Algeria which produces wine.

A tajine or tagine is a Maghrebi dish which is named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked. It is a stew or casserole and can be prepared with many different meat, vegetable, and fruit ingredients.

[19] Reference:

He stands (…) belting out a piece of obscenity from Carmina Burana.

(p.96)

 

Carmina Burana is a scenic cantata composed in 1935 and 1936 by Carl Orff, based on 24 poems from the medieval collection Carmina Burana. It covers a wide range of topics, including the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling, and lust.


Netsuke is recommended if you enjoy perversion in art, if you seek things because they offend (Jodorowsky, Cronenberg; Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom; A Serbian Film; Yoko Ogawa’s Hotel Iris); if you like an author who says fuck and cock and cunt instead of tiptoeing around.

One of American Psycho’s greatest failings was that it kept going… and going… Ducornet smartly keeps her story to 127 pages, long enough to fall under her spell but not lingering with her unpleasant narrator. I will read more of her work.

Next week, a posthumous collection from multi-talented Kathleen Collins: Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?

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