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Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

Tropic of Cancer (1934)

by Henry Miller

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,97891819 (3.64)178
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» See also 178 mentions

English (82)  Spanish (2)  French (2)  Danish (1)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  Hebrew (1)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (91)
Showing 1-5 of 82 (next | show all)
2.5 stars.

Have you ever known a twenty-something young man who arrogantly believes he knows everything about everything? This is 319 pages of that guy, mostly while he's drunk or high. It's just a whiny bigoted blog, albeit with moments of brilliance.

Our hero alternates between being emotionless and overwrought. He is mostly morose with giddy times. The story also alternates - between vignettes of him and his pals and stream of consciousness wandering about everything he encounters.

It was much harder to be reading the deeply sexist and racist attitudes during the end of the 2016 election cycle. Clearly, it was part of the prevailing mindset in the 1930s. Nevertheless, Miller uses certain words so often that I'll be glad to never read them again.

I also wished for some positive impressions of Paris, but the location isn't pleasant or, God forbid, romantic. It's a place filled with prostitutes and destitute people who are scamming for their next glass of Pernod.

Yet, there are passages with beauty and tension like: "The streets were my refuge. And no man can understand the glamour of the streets until he is obliged to take refuge in them, until he has become the straw that is tossed here and there by every zephyr that blows."

The main character gathers his stories, thoughts, and in his own way bares his soul. He believes "... that today more than ever a book should be sought after even if it has only one great page in it: we must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and soul."

After finishing the book, I can understand both why it's considered great twentieth century literature, and why it has been banned. I just didn't especially enjoy my time within its pages. ( )
  TheBibliophage | Mar 20, 2018 |
The saga of an ex-pat in France - poverty and debauchery. Took me a while to stop flinching at some of the language. Glad I didn't bail.

"Everything is endured--disgrace, humiliation, poverty, war, crime, ennui--in the belief that overnight something will occur, a miracle, which will render life tolerable." ( )
  nlgeorge | Jan 26, 2018 |
Immediately within several pages I recognized the influence Henry Miller had on Jack Kerouac. Loopy sentences stiches together like poetry in a sense. Poetry always slightly out of grasp for me. The described sex is boring by today's standards. May have been titillating in the 1930s but clumsy now. Everything a little too "dirty" (literally) for my taste. I'd rather read Hemingway on Paris.
As I progressed into the novel I found parts of it fascinating and very enjoyable. Some lines are memorable such as him describing that his best thoughts come when he's walking and he needs an assistant to follow him around writing it all down. At one point he made a trip to a region outside Paris and encountered a new group of characters. That was interesting. Otherwise, I skimmed the last 40 pages having had enough of his philosophy regarding the world.
As another reviewer put it, I would not recommend this book to anyone ever. Dated and overly misogynist. ( )
  Alphawoman | Jan 1, 2018 |
And to think that I was annoyed year after year cause Miller's books weren't available on the Amazon Kindle store.

So when I finally got Tropic of Cancer in a different format ... it was too late for me to enjoy it. Too late as I've already read Bukowski, Hemingway, Thompson so I know that there's, if not many for sure, a handful of authors capable of telling more with less, and do so while exploring the dark underbelly of the world. Nah, too late cause this is 2016 and western society is to far along to be left open-mouthed by tales of vanilla sex or abject poverty.

So bored by his interminable descriptions that led nowhere I left this book half finished and I feel no remorse. ( )
  emed0s | Jul 16, 2016 |
A remarkable novel from start to finish on pretty much every level except, as my rating shows, on the development of any memorable character worth remembering or any plot. But that’s a weakness of my rating system, not the novel.

In fact, pretty much the point of the novel is that plot and character are what’s got us into the mess that Miller is trying to draw our attention to; this is about as anarchist as you could get for this genre in the 1930s. To bring defining societal models such as personality traits or storylines into Miller’s work would have been anathema to him.

The novel is one long pursuit of happiness through the ‘freedom’ of doing whatever you want, whenever you want to do it and with whoever happens to be lying around when you get the urge. The expression of this urge through sex was what got Miller’s book banned not only on its initial publication but also on its second
publication in the US thirty years later.

Reading it nearly 100 years after he wrote it though and you’ll not be as shocked as his contemporaries were. What you get is a very lucid picture of interwar bohemian Paris. In fact, if there is a character at all in the novel that is described in any detail, it’s the city itself.

Miller’s philosophy not only manifested itself in a refusal to maintain social boundaries. It also gave rise to his unwillingness to follow literary form. The novel is written in a style unique for the time with unconventional prose that is at time utterly remarkable. There are parts where it doesn’t work out so well but, as is the nature of experiments, you always learn something.

Those who learned went on to become great writers themselves: Burroughs, Kerouac, Easton Ellis. Some, such as Erica Jong, even borrowed Miller wholesale to make up for their inability to innovate style even if they had an original point of view.

There’s no doubt this deserves its place on the 1001 list even if you don’t appreciate the subject matter at times. Its influence has shaped the novel as we know it and, for that, it should be read by anyone interested in the novel as a medium of human expression. ( )
1 vote arukiyomi | Mar 25, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 82 (next | show all)
How shocking Tropic of Cancer was when I got hold of a smuggled copy in the late thirties; how merely charming it is now, redolent of a Paris in which the coffee and Gauloises were alike more aromatic than they’ve been since the war, a genuine vie de bohème, the physical act of love as fresh as if the French had just invented it. Miller unbuttoned the fly and tore open the placket with a fiercer gust than Lawrence (who was still mother’s boy) or Joyce (who let language get in the way). Today’s naked generation has learned nearly everything from him – everything, that is to say, except his bookishness, his capacity for recapturing innocence, his sense of wonder, his sense of words.
added by SnootyBaronet | editNew York Times, Anthony Burgess (Jan 2, 1972)
What Cancer uniquely possesses is a coherent, animating vision of life—one that justifies the book's disjunctions of form, binds together its stark literalism and its reverie, and spares Miller's adventures the drabness of mere anecdote. The vision is of manic nihilism, of hunger for experience combined with scorn for the cowardly, illusion-drugged human race, which has to dream of miracles while "all the while a meter is running inside and there is no hand that can reach in there and shut it off." Miller has given up on value—and, along with it, any obligation to steel his narrative manner against the ironic fates or to tease meaning from the world with modernist devices of myth and symbol. He is simply talking, much as he will talk through thousands of subsequent pages, but with the difference that here the talk is an act of liberation, a registering of the discovery that no care need be taken to seek order, make discriminations, or check one's impulses. "If I am a hyena I am a lean and hungry one: I go forth to fatten myself."
added by SnootyBaronet | editNew York Review of Books, Frederick Crews
Tropic of Cancer is a good piece of writing; and it has also a sort of historical importance. It is the epitaph for the whole generation of American writers and artists that migrated to Paris after the war... It has frequently been characteristic of the American writers in Paris that they have treated pretentious subjects with incompetent style and sordid feeling. Mr. Miller has done the opposite: he has treated an ignoble subject with a sure hand at color and rhythm. He is not self-conscious and not amateurish. And he has somehow managed to be low without being really sordid.

added by SnootyBaronet | editThe New Republic, Edmund Wilson
Twenty-eight years have gone by since Tropic of Cancer was first published. Since then its form has become the most fashionable in modern literature. We are being overwhelmed in a pandemic of récits — especially French ones... There is only one trouble with all this stuff. It is soaked in unfathomable solemnity and pompous rhetoric. In all Genêt or Kerouac there is nothing to compare with Miller’s Hindu and the bidet, or the Imaginary Rich Girl. I’m sorry. I just don’t believe Henry when he expands and augments Count Keyserling, or recommends a Dream Book, or worries at breakfast over the astrology column in the morning paper. He’s having us all on — maybe himself included — but behind the deep thoughts from Bughouse Square, there is always, however faint, the steady rumble of low-down mockery.
added by SnootyBaronet | editThe Nation, Kenneth Rexroth
Henry Miller—probably the funniest American writer since Mark Twain... is the closest an American has come to Rabelais... Tropic of Cancer had a liberating spirit, because it seemed totally without hypocrisy... Miller sees friends in terms of the possible meal or bed he can cadge from them, women in terms of their sexual possibilities. Miller seems to bring us closer to "reality," seems to bring art closer to truth. But when we're reading him we don't think of his sexual hyperbole as objective description; we don't assume, for example, that all the women Miller meets are sexy sluts visibly painting for what he can give them...

The hero is amazing because he takes such joy in the diversity of possible pleasures; one imagines him as a mild little man with all-embracing tastes, a man eager to try whatever he can get, being excited by even the most unlikely ladies... Miller, one of the great characters in American literature—Huck Finn as a starving expatriate—is... a joyful coward who will always sneak away rather than face an unpleasant scene.
added by SnootyBaronet | editNew Yorker, Pauline Kael

» Add other authors (62 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry Millerprimary authorall editionscalculated
康雄, 大久保翻訳secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gerhardt, RenateEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nin, AnaïsPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saarikoski, PenttiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shapiro, KarlIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wagenseil, KurtTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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These novels will give way, by and by, to diaries or autobiographies--captivating books, if only a man knew how to choose among what he calls his experiences that which is really his experience, and how to record truth truly. ---Ralph Waldo Emerson
First words
I am living at the Villa Borghese.
I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God. This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, and defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants of God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty

I believe that today more than ever a book should be sought after even if it has only one great page in it: we must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and soul.
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Book description
Autobiographical novel by Henry Miller, published in France in 1934 and, because of censorship, not published in the United States until 1961. Written in the tradition of Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau, it is a monologue about Miller's picaresque life as an impoverished expatriate in France in the early 1930s. The book benefited from favorable early critical response and gained popular notoriety later as a result of obscenity trials. Containing little plot on narrative, Tropic of Cancer is made up of anecdotes, philosophizing, and rambling celebrations of life. Despite his poverty, Miller extols his manner of living, unfettered as it is by moral and social conventions. He lives largely off the resources of his friends. In exuberant and sometimes preposterous passages of unusual sexual frankness, he chronicles numerous encounters with women, including his mysterious wife Mona, as he pursues a fascination with female sexuality. Tropic of Cancer was the first of an autobiographical trilogy, followed by Black Spring (1936) and Tropic of Capricorn (1939). (Review by The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature by way of Amazon)
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A stream-of-consciousness story of a poverty-stricken young American, living in Paris.

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