Sexus by Henry Miller was given to me over twenty years ago. A friend was downsizing his collection and I decided to try it out since I had liked the movie “Henry & June”. I put off reading it because something better was always available, which is what I have frequently written in LiveJournal posts whenever I acquire free books that were not from the library and thus did not have to be returned right away.

The edition of the novel I read was 634 pages of often solid text without paragraphs or quotations. Block after block of rectangular text could have been a reason why I put off reading it for so long. The passages with dialogue flowed speedily, and Miller captured the spoken word as accurately as if he had secretly taped a conversation. There is plenty of heterosexual sex in Sexus, as this is Henry Miller after all and the title alone should be a giveaway as to the subject matter. Conversations about sex and descriptions of his dalliances and one-night stands with prostitutes and ex-wives were rapid page-turners.

Miller refers to himself in the novel by his own name and Sexus could thus be interpreted as autobiographical. His brickwork passages, when they reflected his own internal dialogues and impressions, flowed as rapidly as his conversations with others. I did not like his laborious passages of dreamlike hallucinogenic philosophizing. The page-turning ground to a halt as I sat for several minutes trying to digest pages like this. Sometimes I could only get through fifteen of these pages in an hour.

Aside from his accurate descriptions of dialogue, I liked Miller’s use of simile. I liked lines such as this:

“But in the bright light of day, with the marquee looking like the aftermath of small-pox, the Catholic Church next door so dingy, woe-begone, so scroungy-looking, the priest always standing on the steps, scratching his ass by way of registering disgust and disapprobriation. It was very much like the picture of reality which the sclerotic mind of a sceptic conjures up when he tries to explain why there can be no God.”

Sexus was written in 1949 and reflects the orthography of the time. Miller spells words such as “any one”, “some one”, and even “small-pox” in the quote above, all as two words. It was distracting to read the pronouns as two words, especially when they were split over two lines.

Unfortunately I couldn’t recall where I left off whenever I had to put a stop to my reading. Miller didn’t leave me with any suspenseful moments or anything memorable at the end of chapters. I often had to stop reading while mid-chapter, and all too often I couldn’t recall what I had last read, even when I resumed reading later on the same day. Sexus for me was an exercise in reading for the sake of turning pages, with a lot of sex thrown in to make sure I made it all the way to the end. Although I did not particularly care for this novel, I would still like to read Miller’s perhaps more famous works, like Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn.

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