Book: The Necrophiliac
Author: Gabrielle Wittkop
Type of Book: Fiction, necrophilia
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Self-explanatory, I think.
Availability: Published by ECW Press in 2011, you can get a copy here:
Comments: Finally! A new book to satisfy the imaginations of all the people who land on my site via Google searches for “necrophilia!” Not being flippant because there are a surprising number of you. I was directed to this book by a commenter to this site, “Bad Tara.” Tara is not a big fan of Peter Sotos and recommended this book as an example of the literature she believes to be truly sexually transgressive. (When I look back on what I’ve read these last few months, I realize that for me this was the Summer of Sexual Deviance. It was not intentional, but my reviews are going to be a bit perverse for a bit. Just a heads up.)
I have to admit that I was completely surprised by this book. When I was a young woman I had a definite affinity for the gothic, especially the gothic obsession with death and decay. Poe and Baudelaire were favorites for me, as were Flannery O’Connor and Shirley Jackson. I read plenty of splatter, too, just foulness for the sake of foulness, but it was not until I read the book Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite that I experienced a true marriage of splatter with a love of the Word. (Poppy Z. Brite now lives as a transgendered man, Billy Martin, so while I will call him “Brite” as I discuss his earlier work, I also will use male pronouns.)
Brite created a Southern Gothic splatter that pushed boundaries so far that it took me a long time to understand what I thought of the book. He borrowed from serial killer culture and used the creepiness in New Orleans to excellent advantage, but the most important element of this book to me was that, aside from a far too early brush with Hubert Selby, it was the first literary wallow I ever read. As so many of my extreme horror discussions here indicate, good extremity is rare, so while I had read lots of extremity, I had never read extremity as good and purposeful as Exquisite Corpse. Brite’s novel, about a Dahmer/Nilsen-like desire by killers to keep a corpse with them for as long as they could, employed every sense as he wrote about evisceration and necrophilia. The tactile experience of intestines in the hands, the sweet, cloying smell of rot, the visceral sensation of, well, viscera – it was all fabulously crafted. Murder, necrophilia and corpse desecration read with a sickening beauty. The novel was deeply disturbing on almost every level, which made my enjoyment of the gorgeous decadence all the more questionable to me. Think about it – what does it say about you when you admit, “This depiction of a terrible murder, evisceration and subsequent decomposition of a raped corpse was some of the most sensual prose I’ve read?”
Lucky for me that was two decades ago and the Internet came along and made everything far less shocking. But there was no avoiding that Brite’s prose was sensual, a delicious wallow in the forbidden and revolting. Exquisite Corpse is beautiful because of the revelation that the horrible can be so very beautiful and emotionally satisfying. It’s the book version of casu marzu and balut. It’s a delicacy, and that which is a delicacy is often that which is the most outrageous, harmful, foul or upsetting, when you consider all the details.
While The Necrophiliac is not so sensual, not so visceral, had I not read Exquisite Corpse all those years ago, I might not have had a proper frame work for Wittkop’s book. What I know of necrophilia doesn’t lend itself well to romantic looks at those whose love for the dead extends beyond a sexual compulsion. The Molly Parker film, Kissed, touched on the subject of romantic necrophilia, but it was very artsy and refined, never really discussing the cold, messy realities of loving the dead. The grotesque story of Dr. Carl Tanzler, who stole the dead body of a young woman who had died of tuberculosis, mummified it and equipped it with a special “channel” so he could have sex with her for seven years, comes close. But it wasn’t like Tanzler loved all the dead – rather, he was obsessed and fixated on one specific body. He didn’t want to make love to corpses. He wanted to make love to this young woman and, since he could not have her in life, he had her in death.