Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller – Reviewed by Guy Portman
Set in the late 1920s and early 30s, Tropic of Cancer is a semi-autobiographical first-person account of a young, struggling American writer living in Paris, and for a short period Le Havre. His is a seedy existence, characterised by a shortage of money, a quest to find food, and an underlying and incessant sexual desire. Our protagonist’s exploits entail numerous drinking and sexual-related adventures involving venereal disease, philosophy and bedbugs. The book’s array of colourful characters comprises downtrodden Bohemian artists, prostitutes and fellow expatriates. There is the debauched, misogynist Van Norden, the intellectual and immoral Carl, a raucous Russian claiming to be a princess, and a Hindu pearl merchant.
The narrator leads an amoral, scrounging existence, devoid of responsibility. There is no concern for tomorrow and little thought given to his absent wife Mona back in America.
This reader, an ardent fan of transgressive fiction, was intrigued by the book’s themes – sexuality, freedom and the human condition – and on a number of occasions amused by its parasitic protagonist. However, he found the self-indulgent, lengthy, stream of consciousness-style, grandiloquent language-laden philosophical discourses to be increasingly tedious.