Ah, Boris. Like many other readers, I imagine, I read this one on the strength of L'Écume des Jours
– favorites of mine – and the wild story of the book itself. From what I’d read of it, I wasn’t expecting anything up to the standards of those two books, but, it’s Vian, and it seemed that since he intended it to be something of a hoax, there’d be something deeper beneath the noir cover.
Not really. Despite the caveats, it's a nasty, sordid piece of work. The misogyny and racial aspects, even when one tries to read through a lens of irony or highly disguised social critique, remain – to employ that overused word – problematic. The same goes for the repeated use of sexual violence (particularly toward children); the attempts at shocking the reader may make sense for the genres he’s imitating, or as a critique of Southern white society and how that society has formed Lee, but it’s a stretch. A few readers have compared it to Native Son
, but the imitation pulp style of I Spit on Your Graves
doesn’t leave much room for nuance and development.
Overall, the concept is brilliant; the follow-through didn’t work for me. It just made me want to take a hot shower and pretend Vian had never written the thing. It seems the book haunted poor Boris, too, as, in addition to causing a ding in his literary reputation, it led to his being fined 100,000 francs when a copycat murderer claimed it as inspiration, and ultimately culminated in his sudden cardiac death while watching the (apparently dreadful) film adaptation.
Read it if you’re a Vian fan, or if you’re into the twisted stuff. Otherwise, skip.