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Last Words from Montmartre (New York Review Books Classics)

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An NYRB Classics Original Last Words from Montmartre is a novel in letters that narrates the gradual dissolution of a relationship between two lovers and, ultimately, the complete unraveling of the narrator. In a voice that veers between extremes, from self-deprecation to hubris, compulsive repetition to sublime reflection, reticence to vulnerability, it can be read as both An NYRB Classics Original Last Words from Montmartre is a novel in letters that narrates the gradual dissolution of a relationship between two lovers and, ultimately, the complete unraveling of the narrator. In a voice that veers between extremes, from self-deprecation to hubris, compulsive repetition to sublime reflection, reticence to vulnerability, it can be read as both the author’s masterpiece and a labor of love, as well as her own suicide note. Last Words from Montmartre, written just as Internet culture was about to explode, is also a kind of farewell to letters. The opening note urges us to read the letters in any order. Each letter unfolds as a chapter, the narrator writing from Paris to her lover in Taipei and to family and friends in Taiwan and Tokyo. The book opens with the death of a beloved pet rabbit and closes with a portentous expression of the narrator’s resolve to kill herself. In between we follow Qiu’s protagonist into the streets of Montmartre; into descriptions of affairs with both men and women, French and Taiwanese; into rhapsodic musings on the works of Theodoros Angelopoulos and Andrei Tarkovsky; and into wrenching and clear-eyed outlines of what it means to exist not only between cultures but, to a certain extent, between and among genders. More Confessions of a Mask than Well of Loneliness, the novel marks Qiu as one of the finest experimentalist and modernist Chinese-language writers of our generation.


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An NYRB Classics Original Last Words from Montmartre is a novel in letters that narrates the gradual dissolution of a relationship between two lovers and, ultimately, the complete unraveling of the narrator. In a voice that veers between extremes, from self-deprecation to hubris, compulsive repetition to sublime reflection, reticence to vulnerability, it can be read as both An NYRB Classics Original Last Words from Montmartre is a novel in letters that narrates the gradual dissolution of a relationship between two lovers and, ultimately, the complete unraveling of the narrator. In a voice that veers between extremes, from self-deprecation to hubris, compulsive repetition to sublime reflection, reticence to vulnerability, it can be read as both the author’s masterpiece and a labor of love, as well as her own suicide note. Last Words from Montmartre, written just as Internet culture was about to explode, is also a kind of farewell to letters. The opening note urges us to read the letters in any order. Each letter unfolds as a chapter, the narrator writing from Paris to her lover in Taipei and to family and friends in Taiwan and Tokyo. The book opens with the death of a beloved pet rabbit and closes with a portentous expression of the narrator’s resolve to kill herself. In between we follow Qiu’s protagonist into the streets of Montmartre; into descriptions of affairs with both men and women, French and Taiwanese; into rhapsodic musings on the works of Theodoros Angelopoulos and Andrei Tarkovsky; and into wrenching and clear-eyed outlines of what it means to exist not only between cultures but, to a certain extent, between and among genders. More Confessions of a Mask than Well of Loneliness, the novel marks Qiu as one of the finest experimentalist and modernist Chinese-language writers of our generation.

30 review for Last Words from Montmartre (New York Review Books Classics)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    A series of twenty experimental letters published posthumously, Last Words from Montmartre rhapsodizes about art, intimacy, and suicide. In it, an incredibly unreliable narrator muses about the downfall of her past romances and considers what it means to live and die authentically. Knowing that the book was published shortly after the author’s death, readers are tempted to identify Last Words as Qiu Miaojin’s suicide note, a sincere account of personal ruin, but the letters are full of artifice A series of twenty experimental letters published posthumously, Last Words from Montmartre rhapsodizes about art, intimacy, and suicide. In it, an incredibly unreliable narrator muses about the downfall of her past romances and considers what it means to live and die authentically. Knowing that the book was published shortly after the author’s death, readers are tempted to identify Last Words as Qiu Miaojin’s suicide note, a sincere account of personal ruin, but the letters are full of artifice and cleverness, even when they recount great pain and anguish. The book blends together several genres, blurs the line between life and art, unfolds nonchronologically, and darts between disparate tones and levels of sophistication. Refined cultural criticism precedes outbursts of anger and self-pity; banal descriptions of daily life follow philosophical musings about romance and desire. The messiness of the book mimics the tumult of passionate love, adding an experiential dimension to the text, and it thwarts any attempt to construct a neat storyline out of the book’s chaotic contents. The work seems best approached as a sequence of moving experimental writings on love, creativity, and self-representation.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    My soul is lonely. Lonely in a lonely way that I’m unwilling to express to you. Last Words from Montmartre is an unrelenting study of absolute sorrow and heartbreak. At times it was difficult to read. I wavered between feeling a deep empathy for Qiu and wanting to shout at her to ‘get over it.’ But we don’t get over it, do we? No, we never quite do. I’m sorry I have to write in this circular and torturously convoluted way. Written in the form of letters, a genre that I generally don’t care for, he My soul is lonely. Lonely in a lonely way that I’m unwilling to express to you. Last Words from Montmartre is an unrelenting study of absolute sorrow and heartbreak. At times it was difficult to read. I wavered between feeling a deep empathy for Qiu and wanting to shout at her to ‘get over it.’ But we don’t get over it, do we? No, we never quite do. I’m sorry I have to write in this circular and torturously convoluted way. Written in the form of letters, a genre that I generally don’t care for, here it serves Qiu well and left me feeling despondent and somewhat suffocated. She wallows, she whines, she ponders and at times is overcome by the simple beauty of the world around her. Maybe this is the great mystery. How someone is still able to fully appreciate the wonder of the world and articulate it so beautifully yet still the darkness is too great. Perhaps if this piece was 100% bleak, it would’ve broken my heart less. As it stands, there were small windows of poetic awe that, knowing the author’s imminent demise, it hurt just that much more to read. And Tokyo is the cherry blossoms, the sunset at dusk, dawn sunlight through her windows, the cry of the crow, the cityscape of darkened rooms on a rainy evening, the depth of feeling in her eyes…. She wrote honestly and unselfconsciously and left behind a glimpse into the psyche of the deeply wounded. This is an uncomfortable read but for some of us, a necessary one. What would have happened if Qiu had received a reply? Why aren’t any of us listening? Forgive me for being so open.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    And so I continue, unintentionally, my readings of young women expatriating themselves to Paris (The Dud Avocado; American Woman in the Chinese Hat; and now this). There's a lot going on here, which is odd because there is almost no plot. But here's a SPOILER ALERT anyhow. What I mean is you can read this 'novel' in several ways. First, you can read it as experimental fiction. Its structure is 20 letters, more or less. Most are written by our narrator who may or may not be Zoë. Most of them are w And so I continue, unintentionally, my readings of young women expatriating themselves to Paris (The Dud Avocado; American Woman in the Chinese Hat; and now this). There's a lot going on here, which is odd because there is almost no plot. But here's a SPOILER ALERT anyhow. What I mean is you can read this 'novel' in several ways. First, you can read it as experimental fiction. Its structure is 20 letters, more or less. Most are written by our narrator who may or may not be Zoë. Most of them are written to Xu. Some are written to Yong. Some are written, I think, by Xu to Zoë. It is hard to tell sometimes who is writing to whom. Intentionally so. Tenses change, willy-nilly. The letters - think: chapters - are numbered, but they are produced out of order. 'Letter Five' follows 'Letter Seventeen' which follows 'Letter Ten'. In a preface-like paragraph, the author tells us to start anywhere we want. Or, you could read this as an annoying love story. Zoë and Xu are lovers. Zoë and Yong may have been lovers too, I think, but they are not lovers like Zoë and Xu are lovers. Except, Zoë is mostly in Paris, 25 to 26 years-old, having published one novel, and now studying for an advanced degree. Xu moves about. They are both Taiwanese women and apparently both cheated on each other (just like The American Woman in the Chinese Hat). The letters, sent or un-sent, are about feelings of betrayal and expressions of undying love. The letters, sorry to say, are New Age self-analytical, dissecting what went wrong. Stuff like: I think you couldn't ignore the fact that you weren't able to fulfill me completely, and I couldn't ignore my ideal expectations of eros from you, and from the moment you fell in love with me, you had to deal with this disappointing problem, and eventually you couldn't bear my ideal expectations of eros anymore, and this transformed your wholehearted devotion into a desire for someone else, and so you planned your escape for your soul and body to settle with another, and I felt the depths of your love for me, and I told you yours was the most intense I'd ever experienced, and because you couldn't deal with the burden of your own disappointment, you discarded me from your heart and removed my "eternity." Or put another way, my "eternity" stopped expressing itself within you. I hope that cleared everything up. The sound you hear, by the way, is me, screaming as I pull my hair, running away, in search of a restraining order. A third way of reading this - (and here I'm going to have to re-SPOILER ALERT, even though it says all this on the back cover of the book) - is as the author's own suicide note. Yes, she went all Breece D'J Pancake. In real life. So, this book is not semi-autobiographical. It's immediate, and morbid. The dedication is: For dead little Bunny and Myself, soon dead Qiu was Taiwanese, lesbian, a novelist once-published, who went to Paris to study for an advanced degree, and, at 26, killed herself. So, the reader has to deal with that. Qiu name-drops, impressively. Marguerite Yourcenar is someone Qiu admires, perhaps more for her relationship to her lover than for Memoirs of Hadrian. Although she highlights Antinous drowning himself. Her favorite film-maker is Angelopoulos, liking, especially, his The Suspended Step of the Stork. She listens to the cello sonatas of Jacqueline du Pré. She favors those who die young, or like Mishima, at their own hands. There's even an Elvis sighting: I can't help falling in love with you. So what to make of this experimental work? In an afterward, the translator, a scholar of both Chinese and Queer Literature, says this is supposed to be "a collaborative reading process" between author and reader. Since there is "no guiding narrative" and the sentences are "unmoored from the usual referents of plot and argument," only "theme" remains: Nested within this challenge ... lay another and more essential one: that of trying as a reader to extrapolate the deeper structural meanings that Qiu intended--meanings themselves only tentatively articulate--knowing that a decision to disambiguate one part of a text will have a cascade of consequences for the rest. Let me translate: Qiu hid the meaning of this novel, if she ever had one; what it means is instead up to the reader to determine; but if you do manage to figure it out, then you've missed the whole point of the novel, which there wasn't any anyhow. Sadly, I come from a long line of disambiguaters. You should see us after a nice meal, finishing a bottle, listening to Yo-Yo Ma play Bach, and saying, "Nope, nothing ambiguous about that!"

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    I had high hopes for this book. Fact #1: LWFM is one of only 4 East Asian novels to have been deemed worthy of inclusion in the "NYRB Classics" series, which currently comprises a total of approximately 384 titles (mostly by European and European-American authors). Fact #2: The glowing back-of-the-book blurb makes LWFM seem too amazing to pass by. I'm normally a sucker for books about female sexuality, thwarted eros, transnational Asian identities, and/or depression/suicidality/mental illness, not I had high hopes for this book. Fact #1: LWFM is one of only 4 East Asian novels to have been deemed worthy of inclusion in the "NYRB Classics" series, which currently comprises a total of approximately 384 titles (mostly by European and European-American authors). Fact #2: The glowing back-of-the-book blurb makes LWFM seem too amazing to pass by. I'm normally a sucker for books about female sexuality, thwarted eros, transnational Asian identities, and/or depression/suicidality/mental illness, not to mention books with modernist, multifarious, experimental, boundary-pushing, "genre-bending" styles. A book that's "rhapsodic," "raw," "wrenching," and "transcendent," stuffed with "psychological" "insights"? Sign me up! I cried. With my expectations cranked up so high before I even started, perhaps it's no wonder that I ended up feeling disappointed with this book. Although LWFM's narrator is in her mid-twenties, she has the dense solipsism and obliviousness of someone stuck in the middle of their adolescent years. For most of its length, this book reads like one of those long, meandering, repetitive "Sure, you THINK you don't love me anymore, but you actually secretly love me" missives that recently jilted lovers pen to their exes. And because everything that happens in the book is filtered through the perspective of a densely solipsistic narrator, most of the characters (with the exception of the free-spirited French lesbian Laurence--more about her later) never come alive as three-dimensional human beings but instead remain largely indistinguishable. The narrator of LWFM isn't exactly someone I'd call insightful. When she tries to distill her impressions of events into insights, she often arrives at trite, hazy, half-baked platitudes, e.g.: "Everyone needs to be understood and this understanding is found within each individual's fate, one's life journey that clarifies the way" (p. 88). The narrator is a Taiwanese living abroad in Paris (voluntarily, for the purpose of pursuing graduate studies in the humanities), but, despite what the back of the book advertises, she doesn't have many fresh insights to offer about "liv[ing] between cultures [and] languages." Over and over, in true meta-fictional fashion, the narrator refers to the book she is narrating as a "novel." Only in the last 40 pages did the book start to feel anything akin to my own personal definition of a "novel," though. Up until that point, the book seemed to me to lack any flesh-and-blood characters, any vividly rendered scenes. I would have been OK with this if the author had had the stylistic brilliance of, say, Djuna Barnes or Elizabeth Hardwick, but Qiu's style is comparatively muted (or maybe its brilliance got lost in translation). The book was somewhat redeemed for me in those last 40 pages: pages 106-115 present the book's most "novelistic," most vividly rendered scene, an imagistic description of the character Laurence skinny-dipping in the Seine, and the pages that follow do some interesting experimental work introducing a character named Zoe who sort of turns the narrative on its head. My takeaway impression, though, is that Qiu Miaojin's talent was, regrettably, not fully realized in the writing of this book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Wren

    I was reading this book and found it so sad and distressing that I think I somehow managed to misplace my copy. At the very least I now can't figure out where it is. And then, three weeks later, it was returned to me. (I had left it at the breakfast place I sometimes go to. They had it waiting for me next time I went.) In some ways this book helped me understand why I haven't killed myself. (I'm not quite intense enough, there's always a little voice in my head that can see at least a smudge of ir I was reading this book and found it so sad and distressing that I think I somehow managed to misplace my copy. At the very least I now can't figure out where it is. And then, three weeks later, it was returned to me. (I had left it at the breakfast place I sometimes go to. They had it waiting for me next time I went.) In some ways this book helped me understand why I haven't killed myself. (I'm not quite intense enough, there's always a little voice in my head that can see at least a smudge of irony or humour in any given situation.) But it definitely made it painfully clear to me why Qiu Miaojin did. Novel as suicide note seems to be some sort of burgeoning genre and it frightens me. Then again, I always have a strange admiration for suicides, or actually for anyone truly able to make up their mind. And then this quote. Qiu Miaojin writes: "Another paradox: Often the one most plagued with lust is the one most capable of restraining it. The monk and the philanderer are likely to be the same person." Also this Henry Giardina article about the Chandos Letter: http://www.berfrois.com/2014/07/henry... Here is Giardina's paragraph: "We don’t ever really know why people take their own lives, but we just as little know why people don’t. When talking about depression and suicidal feelings, usually the fact that someone is still alive to talk about it makes us take them less seriously. Perverse, but true. But talk might not be the most important thing when language itself so often fails us. When I think about the problem so many of us have with talking honestly about bad feelings, I think of an invisible network of people who have pulled back at the last moment, despite everything, and not for any real reason, but because of some insignificant detail at the last moment, completely divorced from ideas of God or reason or earthly ties. Because the weather changed, or because it didn’t: because someone was suddenly and randomly able to live in spite of pain."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    So, I finished this yesterday and initially gave it 3 stars. Not because I thought it was just 'decent', but because I didn't really think it spoke to me; in my 34 years of life, I don't think I could manage to write such raw, unedited emotion that this 25/26 year old poured out over just under 200 pages. Many have lost a lover and felt like they were lost in the world they live in. Many have doubted another's trust, just to see their heart open up and be fulfilled. Many have tried endlessly to mak So, I finished this yesterday and initially gave it 3 stars. Not because I thought it was just 'decent', but because I didn't really think it spoke to me; in my 34 years of life, I don't think I could manage to write such raw, unedited emotion that this 25/26 year old poured out over just under 200 pages. Many have lost a lover and felt like they were lost in the world they live in. Many have doubted another's trust, just to see their heart open up and be fulfilled. Many have tried endlessly to make a relationship work and with their past experiences, have mauled over decisions for the future. Many have not written as much about love and the lengths their heart and mind can go to make things work at such a young age. Whether this story serves as Qiu's initial suicide note or outpour of thoughts for an everlasting love that knows no boundaries, through life and death, one may never know, but it's definitely unforgettable. An NYRB like no other.

  7. 5 out of 5

    El

    In the world of heartbreaking dedications, this one might take the cake: For dead little Bunny and Myself, soon dead. It appears that Bunny was an actual bunny, and the author killed herself at age 26. Knowing that the author killed herself shortly after completing this slim volume changes, I think, the way one reads this. Billed as semiautobiographical, it's hard to distinguish what is real and what is fiction, or if there really is any difference. Ari Larissa Heinrich comments similarly in the Afte In the world of heartbreaking dedications, this one might take the cake: For dead little Bunny and Myself, soon dead. It appears that Bunny was an actual bunny, and the author killed herself at age 26. Knowing that the author killed herself shortly after completing this slim volume changes, I think, the way one reads this. Billed as semiautobiographical, it's hard to distinguish what is real and what is fiction, or if there really is any difference. Ari Larissa Heinrich comments similarly in the Afterword: Knowing that an author writing about suicide has in fact committed suicide naturally complicates the reading of any book. If nothing else, it suggests that no matter what the author's claims may be to artifice or character development, there is a degree of "realism" or autobiography to be accounted for that differs from the range of what usually may be called the "semiautobiographical." The idea that Last Words was in fact literally the capstone work of Qiu's career draws us in, while simultaneously confounding our attempts to assign a truth-value to the text. Is it a "true" story, or a fictionalized account? Is the narrator a constructed persona or just a transformation of Qiu? The relationship between the writer of memoir and the reader is a bond of trust.As an empty point into identification with a main character or narrator, these are dark waters indeed. This semiautobiographical writing was left behind and published posthumously. Because of the truth/fiction dichotomy, there's a feeling of unease as we read Qiu's words - passionate, emotional, dramatic, even melodramatic at times. Doomed. There's a feeling of doom in these pages, through all the beauty of Qiu's writing. We already know how the story - if there is in fact a story - ends. The nameless narrator of these letters loves very deeply. She is heartbroken over the end of a relationship which is something most people can relate to on some level, and some of us may even be able to relate to the intensity which this character feels. These are honest writings, usually, admissions of personal fault and self-accusations, recognition that the destruction of the relationship was, ultimately, on her. She slips into self-destructive thoughts and tendencies, she recognizes she is a flawed person. And this is where it's difficult to read now, knowing the author's demise. It is so difficult to read the pained words of anyone who is suffering, the inability to reach through time and space to help someone understand that this is a blip, relatively-speaking, on the greater experience of their lives. In the beginning of the novel, Qiu herself tells the reader that it's okay to read the letters in any order. I'm sort of a traditionalist in that sense, I like to read from beginning to end, but I can see how it wouldn't matter. We see the character's despair on most of the pages, so it's not like there is a clear deterioration that is witnessed throughout the reading. But now that I've read it once, I would more easily be able to flip through the pages and read certain sections again. Would this book be as heartbreaking to read even if Qiu was alive and well today? Probably, because the story is still powerful in and of itself. Does the knowledge of Qiu's death give reading these letters, the last testament, a sense of morbid curiosity? Absolutely. Having climbed to the peak of the mountain and drowned in a valley of tears, I've experienced too much trauma. But having overcome it, I can live honestly and with dignity, no more self-criticism. I can become my best self, a person I admire. (p85) I would have liked to have known that author, the one who overcame it all and came out stronger in the end. But as with any creative person who took their life too early (by my own personal standards and selfish feelings), I am grateful for what she did share with us.

  8. 4 out of 5

    saïd

    Forgive me for being so open. Twenty letters, which can be read in any order (according to the author herself), form this short, beautiful novel. Visceral and ugly just beneath the surface, and devastating when you consider Qiu Miaojin's own suicide. I wanted to read the novel in the original Chinese as well, but couldn't find an available (and affordable) copy, so I can't comment on the translation. This novel was translated from Chinese to English by Ari Larissa Heinrich; I've never read any Forgive me for being so open. Twenty letters, which can be read in any order (according to the author herself), form this short, beautiful novel. Visceral and ugly just beneath the surface, and devastating when you consider Qiu Miaojin's own suicide. I wanted to read the novel in the original Chinese as well, but couldn't find an available (and affordable) copy, so I can't comment on the translation. This novel was translated from Chinese to English by Ari Larissa Heinrich; I've never read any of their other translations, although I did briefly check out an article in which they discussed somewhat the process of translating the novel, and didn't see any immediate red flags. The other book by Qiu Miaojin I've read is 鱷魚手記/Notes of a Crocodile, and that one was translated by Bonnie Huie. (I liked Huie's translation a lot, plus she said, "Just because a work has been translated into English doesn’t mean that we harbor the mindset to be able to apprehend it," which is a perfectly succinct way of phrasing something I agree with completely.)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Adams

    It’s unfortunate that we have no more of Qiu Miaojin words for us to read and be astonished by. The incredibly vulnerable Last Words From Montmartre is just that. Vulnerable and heart-rending. These letters show a side from a writer clearly saying something to us. Unfortunately this was released posthumously and she never could see/read/hear the brilliant results of her work. Notes of a Crocodile was exquisite, this may be better.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    An astoundingly odd book, and not necessarily in a good way. The translator (and publisher) makes great claims for Qiu's text, and in some ways they're completely justified. This is a novel in a great tradition stretching back at least to Goethe's Werther: an utterly sincere discussion, in epistolary form, of love and one's authentic self. As well as the literary tradition, Qiu's letter-writer is deeply invested in high art film and late twentieth century French theory, and productively brings t An astoundingly odd book, and not necessarily in a good way. The translator (and publisher) makes great claims for Qiu's text, and in some ways they're completely justified. This is a novel in a great tradition stretching back at least to Goethe's Werther: an utterly sincere discussion, in epistolary form, of love and one's authentic self. As well as the literary tradition, Qiu's letter-writer is deeply invested in high art film and late twentieth century French theory, and productively brings them both into her story. On the other hand, Qiu was only 26 when she killed herself. Gentle reader, consider yourself at 26, and now imagine yourself roughly twice as smart as you were. Do you want to read a book written by that ultra-smart version of yourself? How much stomach do you have for naked emotion disguised as intellectual depth? In order to get to the interesting discussion-with-a-tradition stuff, through how much Hallmark greeting card meets self-help malarkey about true souls and fate and ineradicable connections are you willing to wade? Well, fear not, because if nothing else this is pretty short, and you can roll your eyes past the truly atrocious bits--or, as I found myself doing, appreciating just how unpleasant it is to be in one's early twenties, intellectual, and have a well-honed sense of the world's injustice (against yourself). Because Qiu captures this exceedingly well. Now my stern aesthetic philosophy voice kicks in with "well yes, but if the author is just *doing* something, rather than *reproducing it ironically*, how much praise can you give?" I have no answer for this. I did not enjoy the "this is how it feels to be 26, single, and aggrieved." I did not enjoy the sensation that, if our letter writer had been male, reviewers would all have pointed out that he was an incredibly creepy, borderline stalker, psychopath. I did not enjoy the boredom and pain induced by a book that harps constantly on some injustice, but never tells us what it is, and leaves me suspecting that there was no more injustice involved here than there is in the life of most young lovers. And yet I was very happy to read the book. Qiu is exceptionally talented, which becomes obvious in one scene--a scene other reviewers have pointed to. An older woman picks up our letter writer, and they go to the Seine; the description of this scene, plus the eerie calm at the book's conclusion, make it well worth reading. And if nothing else, it's a great book to argue about: how much praise, after all, does someone deserve for doing what everyone does, and writing it down? And would this even be in print if Qiu were still alive?

  11. 5 out of 5

    jeremy

    loyalty is not a passive, negative guardianship of the gate — loyalty arises from the complete and utter opening and subsequent blazing forth of one's inner life. it is an active, determined desire that demands total self-awareness and deliberate engagement. a devastating, unabashedly revealing look into heartbreak and betrayal, qiu miaojin's last words from montmartre is a wrenching, epistolary work of (somewhat autobiographical) fiction. qiu, at the young age of 26, committed suicide shortl loyalty is not a passive, negative guardianship of the gate — loyalty arises from the complete and utter opening and subsequent blazing forth of one's inner life. it is an active, determined desire that demands total self-awareness and deliberate engagement. a devastating, unabashedly revealing look into heartbreak and betrayal, qiu miaojin's last words from montmartre is a wrenching, epistolary work of (somewhat autobiographical) fiction. qiu, at the young age of 26, committed suicide shortly after completing the book (but before it ever saw publication). now an icon of taiwanese queer culture, qiu's influence endures some two decades after her death. composed of twenty letters (which, according to the author, can be read in any order), last words from montmartre speaks of both young love and emotional insight perhaps befitting someone far older than the author was at the time of the book's writing. qiu holds nothing back; discussing infidelity, domestic violence, and sexual awakening. as doleful a work as it is, last words also offers a simple beauty unadorned by pretense or literary construct. qiu's candor is, throughout the book, rather disarming. while difficult to read without drawing parallels to the author's own failed romances and eventual fate, last words from montmartre is, nonetheless, a tragic, but treasurable work of art. i'm sorry i exhausted your patience, wasted away your love; but when you stopped giving me your focused attention, your unqualified benediction, the arrogance of the gods collapsed, and i could only keep silent. *translated from the chinese by ari larissa heinrich, with an afterword that situates qiu, her life, and her work within the necessary historical, social, political, and sexual context.

  12. 5 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    "Why bother writing to someone who doesn't deserve your love? Maybe it has nothing to do with the other person but is for my own love." Love is always a fascinating thing, especially other people's love. It's as much a focal circus for our senses and wits as, I dunno, pro wrestling. In other words, it's amusing to look at, but you don't take it seriously, maybe because it just doesn't seem quite real. These days, that's more 'shit-life syndrome' kind of speak, since folks seem largely ensconced in "Why bother writing to someone who doesn't deserve your love? Maybe it has nothing to do with the other person but is for my own love." Love is always a fascinating thing, especially other people's love. It's as much a focal circus for our senses and wits as, I dunno, pro wrestling. In other words, it's amusing to look at, but you don't take it seriously, maybe because it just doesn't seem quite real. These days, that's more 'shit-life syndrome' kind of speak, since folks seem largely ensconced in so much misery they don't need another's to wallow in. Well, Qiu has laid all of her miseries out on the table, in a way that is both beautiful, confusing, and sometimes embarrassing. Last Words was her final "fictional" work, a collection of random letters meandering and musing over (and written to) the women that she loved and lost, the various shades of love, desire, and so on, and strident attempts to convince the lost loves that they are wrong. Given that Qiu committed suicide soon after writing this thinly-fictionalized epistolary collection, the novel is given some frank and brutal poignancy, and that's where you feel almost dirty reading these secret, inner thoughts of someone brutalized and disappointed in love and life.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Fate is something I refuse to believe in. Fate would have me as a cog alone. Fate would strip me bare. Strip me of me, & yet, as fate would have it, I read this book with the mountainous burden of Miaojin's heart which intertwined with mine so resolute. For I too had suffered a great loss, a love disintegrated, a soul betrayed, perhaps karma redeeming. I too felt the cold hands of suicide trembling around my vital organs, bleeding from my eyes, lips, ears. I felt the searing stab. I read her as Fate is something I refuse to believe in. Fate would have me as a cog alone. Fate would strip me bare. Strip me of me, & yet, as fate would have it, I read this book with the mountainous burden of Miaojin's heart which intertwined with mine so resolute. For I too had suffered a great loss, a love disintegrated, a soul betrayed, perhaps karma redeeming. I too felt the cold hands of suicide trembling around my vital organs, bleeding from my eyes, lips, ears. I felt the searing stab. I read her as I read my own heart to itself. As a reflection of immense loss, in the huddling darkness. Trying to escape the pit of deep wounds to view a future holding something faintly rational. I no longer want to gaze into the eyes of ghostly laughter, of the past smiles imbued with the originality of her heaven, of our heaven, things never before touched at least by me. My heart leapt when hers did. It sunk when hers sunk. It too was jovial. It too was cantankerous. It too longed with the hot deep stakes of pining. It drowned. It shivered in glee & near death. This work is deeply personal in an empathic way. I feel I share many of the same traits. The same qualities & flaws. We share the same qualms with society. Perhaps we share the same erratic romantic tendencies. The same passion whether possessing the world with beauty or destruction & it seems to take place against the will of the host. I take small solace in the fact that I am not alone cursed by this involuntary wretchedness. Small because she took her own life. She is gone. It brought me to tears. This truly was a traumatic reading experience because it held up this painful mirror of self & this particular moment in my life. It felt almost masochistic to finish this read but my love for her grew so much that I had to feel her last words as they were my very own. I bless her with the love she bestowed in her words. I feel her spirit as it has tightly gripped mine. The sincerity is brutal. I have wept for this book like no other. It resonates as two identical notes across the vastness of space time. It is indeed a crucifixion by way of a trinity. Crucified by her self, crucified by her lover or lack thereof, & crucified morbidly by love itself. & she is both a willing & reluctant martyr as are they all before coming to terms with the solace of death. In the end, so many tears were drawn & yet not one do I regret. I love her. Not till the end. There is no end. Only love. Outstretched. For eternity.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    Knowledge is a burden and a curse. It is knowledge that led me to this book and knowledge that forbids me from fully entering its gates. It is knowledge that lets me acknowledge the bullet point worth of this edition's translator's afterword as well as decry it as largely being fatuous, self-satisfied filth. It is knowledge that riddles off for me the mean and measure of Yourcenar, Mishima, and Dazai, as well as shames me for not being able to penetrate the 'Orientalist' political obscurity that Knowledge is a burden and a curse. It is knowledge that led me to this book and knowledge that forbids me from fully entering its gates. It is knowledge that lets me acknowledge the bullet point worth of this edition's translator's afterword as well as decry it as largely being fatuous, self-satisfied filth. It is knowledge that riddles off for me the mean and measure of Yourcenar, Mishima, and Dazai, as well as shames me for not being able to penetrate the 'Orientalist' political obscurity that this edition consigns Qiu Miaojin to until she submits to relocating to Europe. In other words, while I am not quite resigned to knowing that I will need to read this again when an edition that pays full credit to Qiu Miaojin's origins rather than shoving it all under a Eurocentric wunderkind comes out, I am rather infuriated by how glibly a piece like this was shoved out amidst the usual hipster dreck, for what exactly is the use of having "a master's in Chinese literature from Harvard and a PhD in Chinese studies from" UC Berkeley and being a "professor of Chinese literature and media" if you can't reference anything more recent than I Ching when it comes to citing literary heritage outside of the white straight and narrow. In other words, knowledge is what brought me to this wake of vultures, but unfortunately for those salivating whites pawing at the outskirts of their cancerous empire of academia for a thoroughly amputated, safely euthanized bag of fresh "exotic" blood, this suicidal queer is still alive and kicking, and I'll be damned if I see this book sloughed off like all the rest. If there is ever another earthquake in Tokyo and identities are lost, I will not claim my own name during reconstruction. I won't speak until you lead me out from the crowd, for you will recognize me in my silence. There's a scene in a psychological horror-thriller series put out in the last decade that showcases the cross sectional dissection of a heretofore crime scene investigator, each layer of her, a Korean American woman, body layered between vertical slices of glass. There's also a Japanese manga called Revolutionary Girl Utena that was first created by an artist collective in 1996, followed by a television adaptation into an anime in 1997 and a feature film in 1999. The latter would go on to heavily influence the making of the animated show Steven Universe and its bisexual, non-binary, and genderqueer creator, while the former is an attempt to portray my reading experience of this book. Looping back to the subject of knowledge, I once said in a review that politics is the first thing you learn about other countries and the last you know about your own. Fortunately for me, Qiu Miaojin is a much greater writer than the translator of this edition is, and her brief portrait of the systematic destruction of a woman loving woman's relationship in the face of rightwing France is as indispensable to this piece as is her methodical tallying of the stresses and strains in her seemingly "apolitical" sexual relationships. Much greater, and much more painful, for it is this ability to come out of herself and turn on her most secret desires and her most shameful outbursts that is ever so familiar to me, and the compassion and skill she wields in the face of heartbreak requires huge amounts of infrastructural support that I doubt she was getting, if the burgeoning government cancelation of her postgraduate program was anything to go by. To turn, and turn, and turn about, with US funded dictatorships as the devil and Occidental Obstinacy as the deep blue sea. Want to know why folks kill themselves? It's to forgo the mockery that calls itself the mental healthcare system and claim the dignity of life before there's no way left but compromise, and with conversion therapy/corrective rape still being pushed in 2022 in the good ol' USA as "compromise," can you blame them? But how about we turn to the brighter things for a change. The revelation of a favorite professor, the realization of a communal soul, the fulfillment of a courteous lover, the intricate dance of a cross cultural companion. Folks talk about internet bullying and the suicidal sprees of the digital days, but where were you when queer youths all around the world flung their way into porn shops and police kennels in hopes of finding a form of human beyond what is peddled by the martial marital bed of both nationalism and colonialism? Where would Qiu Miaojin be if she hadn't had to stretch her brain to five times as many degrees, languages, and enculturated desires to match the sickly white boy who need only have a single chicken beheaded in front of him to enshrine him in immortal realm of stalwart psychology textbooks? For while I appreciate being able to match some of my favorite authors to hers and look forward in anticipation to others with her full approval, I appreciate more the scenes of ranging with a lover to buy a pet rabbit, witnessing the blooming of the erotic in the swimming of a river, the intricate dioramas she builds that do everything but present a socioeconomic analysis of love under transcontinental pressure, from the land of the rising sun to the city of love and a little island, last stronghold of the Republic of China, in between. It's a stratification of love/loss that certain types would love to shove under "postmodern" and call it a day, but I'll be refraining from any sort of genealogical presumption (especially the lazy ones) until I get through Notes of a Desolate Man and China's Avant-Garde Fiction: An Anthology (Stories of the Sahara is also promising), at the very least. I may not have a doctorate or the slightest bit of appropriate fluency, but with the state of translation being what it is today, I may as well do my part in providing a bit of monetary incentive to those wondering whether anyone cares once the hype from the tortured artist dies down and the survivors are left to pick up the scraps. I lit a cigarette and asked myself how I could change to keep loving her. Should you read this book? Who knows. It certainly demonstrates its technical chops in full when it comes to highfalutin literary references (the author studying with Hélène Cixous to boot), but it's also not full of itself, which will be disappointing to certain types who add works like these to their repertoire as a massive "first world" conglomerate adds impoverished "third world" animators to their audiovisual behemoths. Drowned as I am in real world mirroring when reading this text, I have no idea what the fine details of love, loss, and interpersonal negotiation are going to read to someone who has always taken the right to marriage/not be publicly harassed/not be forcibly institutionalized for granted and can barely find Tokyo on a map, let alone Taipei. Break off all that from the names and the motivations and the contortions exacted by geography and cultural convention and it all becomes another bout of dreary hysterics spouted by one too young to know any better, although I'd like to think some of it still stands up for itself here and there (one wonders at the degree in psychology and how much Qiu Miaojin saw herself in those in for treatment and those doing the treating). It's a five star work for me because it feels wrong to rate it anything else, but there's a good chance I won't call it a favorite until I get that second reading in. Certain things turn off, and then, turn on, and negotiating the pain of the reviving limb isn't something that can be done all at once. There will often still be joy and beauty, I murmured to myself. It's a piece of my own heart and soul that I say, oh yes, it is rather sad that the author ended her life the way she did. However, surely there are many who didn't kill themselves and are writing to this day. Why aren't you translating them?

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rambling Raconteur

    A raw, passionate missive from a single voice across Paris nights, Qiu Miajin's Last Words from Montmartre wraps the reader in a sling and spins us through her mind and soul. The twently letters can be ready in any order; each will chart the betrayal and doubt she feels. "Human nature has its fatal weaknesses, but 'love' means embracing the whole of human nature, the bad within the good, the benign within the malicious, the beautiful within the tragic. 'Love' is the experience of this whole, its A raw, passionate missive from a single voice across Paris nights, Qiu Miajin's Last Words from Montmartre wraps the reader in a sling and spins us through her mind and soul. The twently letters can be ready in any order; each will chart the betrayal and doubt she feels. "Human nature has its fatal weaknesses, but 'love' means embracing the whole of human nature, the bad within the good, the benign within the malicious, the beautiful within the tragic. 'Love' is the experience of this whole, its unfinished parts, including those of one's own in relation to the other." Miaojin was explicit in her references, both literary and across pop culture. Dazai's No Longer Human, Kawabata's Snow Country, and Tanizaki's Quicksand come to mind, though all of those are from Japan not Taiwan and the Taiwanese diaspora. The poetry of Anne Sexton touches some of the emotions Miaojin dove headfirst into, while her experiments in formal structure recall Italo Calvino and Julio Cortazar. The final, private apocalypse that she moves towards also recalls the writings of Gerard de Nerval. Video discussion: https://youtu.be/cGuJ33PmkGo

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bradley Clacy

    Why is it the ones with such fragile beauty, who truly know life’s pain, always have to kill themselves? David Foster Wallace, Qiu Miaojin, Hu Bo, David Berman, Nick Drake, Sylvia Plath. Why can’t I ever meet anyone like this in real life before they end their lives? I feel like I’m forever in communication with the dead, and I’m truly afraid that one day I’ll join their ranks. No one I know in real life lives a spiritual life or is this emotionally intelligent. They all graze on the surface and Why is it the ones with such fragile beauty, who truly know life’s pain, always have to kill themselves? David Foster Wallace, Qiu Miaojin, Hu Bo, David Berman, Nick Drake, Sylvia Plath. Why can’t I ever meet anyone like this in real life before they end their lives? I feel like I’m forever in communication with the dead, and I’m truly afraid that one day I’ll join their ranks. No one I know in real life lives a spiritual life or is this emotionally intelligent. They all graze on the surface and run away from pain instead of facing it. For once, I would like to see someone bare their guts with such open vulnerability as Qiu Miaojin does. For once, I would like to meet someone so brave and honest, so in tune with their emotions, that they fearlessly reach out for the sake of connection instead of keeping everything locked inside or hiding behind their insecurities. If you’re reading this and you can relate, then know you’re not alone, that I too feel this way, and that you should totally read Miaojin ASAP.

  17. 5 out of 5

    mark mendoza

    Rocked n' revived by Qiu Miaojin's devastating (literally) Last Words from Montmartre: part lesbian love letter, part fiction, part memoir, part suicide note, part sharp missal from a sweet sister sent straight to my heart.... “Loyalty is not a passive, negative guardianship of the gate – loyalty arises from the complete and utter opening and subsequent blazing forth of one's inner life. It is an active, determined desire that demands total self-awareness and deliberate engagement.” (p.20) “Huma Rocked n' revived by Qiu Miaojin's devastating (literally) Last Words from Montmartre: part lesbian love letter, part fiction, part memoir, part suicide note, part sharp missal from a sweet sister sent straight to my heart.... “Loyalty is not a passive, negative guardianship of the gate – loyalty arises from the complete and utter opening and subsequent blazing forth of one's inner life. It is an active, determined desire that demands total self-awareness and deliberate engagement.” (p.20) “Human nature has its fatal weaknesses, but 'love' means embracing the whole of human nature, the bad within the good, the benign within the malicious, the beautiful within within the tragic. 'Love' is the experience of this whole, its unfinished parts, including those of one's own in relation to those of the other.” (p. 141)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Zak

    My first DNF since joining Goodreads. I just can't go on. The author committed suicide at age 26. The dedication reads, "For dead little Bunny and Myself, soon dead". The whole book is just a series of letters where the protagonist laments about her lover leaving her and the death of her pet rabbit. This might sound insensitive, but I want to tell her she is still young and there are more than 7 billion people in the world, so have a good cry and move on. The worst thing is that she keeps insist My first DNF since joining Goodreads. I just can't go on. The author committed suicide at age 26. The dedication reads, "For dead little Bunny and Myself, soon dead". The whole book is just a series of letters where the protagonist laments about her lover leaving her and the death of her pet rabbit. This might sound insensitive, but I want to tell her she is still young and there are more than 7 billion people in the world, so have a good cry and move on. The worst thing is that she keeps insisting that she is the only right person for the now-missing lover and one day the lover will realise what a mistake it was and want her back. I don't know if the protagonist represents the author but I have a feeling it is based largely on her own life. May she rest in peace or come back wiser in the next life.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joe Cross

    probably the best thing i've read all year while also being one of the most challenging and perhaps the single darkest pieces of writing i've ever encountered in a way that makes it truly impossible to rate or think too much about probably the best thing i've read all year while also being one of the most challenging and perhaps the single darkest pieces of writing i've ever encountered in a way that makes it truly impossible to rate or think too much about

  20. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    "I must accept this fate of being abandoned and betrayed; I must accept my helplessness. There's no way for me not to lose. There's nothing I can do for myself" (50). So writes the narrator of Last Words from Montmartre, in one of the twenty-one numbered letters that make up the bulk of the text of this book. (It's more formally experimental than that, though: some of the letters are fragmented, not all have a clear recipient, and it's not always even clear who the narrator is. The letters are n "I must accept this fate of being abandoned and betrayed; I must accept my helplessness. There's no way for me not to lose. There's nothing I can do for myself" (50). So writes the narrator of Last Words from Montmartre, in one of the twenty-one numbered letters that make up the bulk of the text of this book. (It's more formally experimental than that, though: some of the letters are fragmented, not all have a clear recipient, and it's not always even clear who the narrator is. The letters are not printed entirely in numerical order, and there's a note at the beginning saying that "readers can begin anywhere.") The narrator is lamenting a lost love, a failed relationship, a betrayal, and the narrative is often very interior, and somewhat circular and abstract. It's uncomfortable to be with the narrator in these first-person loops of thought, the obsessive writing about the beloved, about the pain of living. "I don't like it that there's so much wounding in the world. If there persists in being so much wounding in the world, I don't want to live in it," the narrator says (8). And then: "I want to become someone else. This is the single best thing I could do for myself. I know that I have to change my identity, live under an assumed name. I have to cry. I have to live by transforming myself into someone else" (9). "Your inner life and mine are symbiotic," the narrator says (19). "Unless you want to shut it down completely—to castrate it—your inner life will never be complete with anyone but me" (ibid.). And later: "Whether our love is worth it or not is irrelevant. So what if there's someone nicer than you or prettier than you— it doesn't change a thing. Come and hurt me more. You still mean the same to me: I belong to you" (73). There are moments of hope and energy: I like this, which appears at the start of the sixth letter: "All of a sudden my new life is like a field overgrown with strange flowers and exotic grasses or the shimmering, starry sky of my unbridled imagination" (30). And I like the concrete moments of joy or delight, passages about the larger world and the narrator's existence in it: when she talks about going to see the films of Theodoros Angelopoulos, or about a lover swimming naked in the Seine, or about walking through the Latin Quarter with friends on a drizzly night, or a visit to Tokyo in cherry-blossom season. In the afterword to this translation, Ari Larissa Heinrich writes this, which I think captures a lot about how this book feels: messy, and uncomfortable, and true: Qiu refuses to edit the ugliness out of a text that is also sublime in its sensitive portrayal of someone's quests for truth. Her accomplishment is precisely that her novel does not shield us from ugliness; it is raw self-exposure and we are meant to see it, ride the awkwardness of it, feel the self-hatred and anger and ambivalence behind it even as we are invited to identify deeper into the novel. (160)

  21. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    A tortured portrait of obsession, self-creation/destruction and art-making. Cyclical and brutal. I think I spent a year reading this book, and I'm still sure I missed so much. A tortured portrait of obsession, self-creation/destruction and art-making. Cyclical and brutal. I think I spent a year reading this book, and I'm still sure I missed so much.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kamila Kunda

    “Last Words from Montmartre”, an epistolary novel by Taiwanese author Qiu Miaojin (Chiu Miao-Chin), was published posthumously. Qiu was only twenty six when she took her own life while living in Paris, where she studied clinical psychology and feminism. Taiwan is the first Asian country where same sex marriage has been legalised in 2019, but the LGBTQ movement has been strong there for decades. Qiu’s writing has influenced many LGBTQ authors in Taiwan and rightly so. The novel is written in 26 le “Last Words from Montmartre”, an epistolary novel by Taiwanese author Qiu Miaojin (Chiu Miao-Chin), was published posthumously. Qiu was only twenty six when she took her own life while living in Paris, where she studied clinical psychology and feminism. Taiwan is the first Asian country where same sex marriage has been legalised in 2019, but the LGBTQ movement has been strong there for decades. Qiu’s writing has influenced many LGBTQ authors in Taiwan and rightly so. The novel is written in 26 letters by an unnamed female narrator, an alter ego of the writer herself, mainly addressed to her greatest love, the woman named Xu, but also to her platonic lover Yong, her sister or no one in particular. They talk of passion and heartbreak, confess love and lust, oscillate between despair and hope. Like every young person suffering after a painful break-up the narrator can’t imagine life without the beloved, yet at the same time marvels at life still going on, Paris still looking picture-perfect, girlfriends still being supportive and caring, and even new crushes brightening the days. Yet, the decision to take her own life is taking shape in the mind of the narrator and it sounds like Qiu enriched the narrator with her own thoughts and feelings, observations, fascinations (e.g. films by Theo Angelopoulos or the figure of Osamu Dazai) and also life choice and decisions. Narrator’s passion (not only in sexual terms) is all-consuming and one can sense that it is eating her alive. It’s as if Bukowski’s words: “Find what you love and let it kill you” haunted her. There is no balance, there is little peace and harmony which the narrator yearns for it but which constantly elude her. Reading “Last Words from Montmartre” made me realise how rarely love for life is written about in such style, with such verve and raw energy. Qiu Miaojin is the soulmate daughter of Anaïs Nin and one doesn’t meet such women every day. A very precious book.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    “Only a spirit of artistic sincerity can console the souls of humankind," Taiwanese novelist Qui Miajin writes in the Last Words from Montmartre. Qiu was 26 when she took her life in Paris on June 25, 1995. At the time, she was studying psychology and feminism at the University of Paris VIII, and her first novel, Notes of a Crocodile (1994), had already achieved cult status among lesbian readers. In one of the 20 letters that make up her Last Words from Montmartre, Qui writes: "After I returned “Only a spirit of artistic sincerity can console the souls of humankind," Taiwanese novelist Qui Miajin writes in the Last Words from Montmartre. Qiu was 26 when she took her life in Paris on June 25, 1995. At the time, she was studying psychology and feminism at the University of Paris VIII, and her first novel, Notes of a Crocodile (1994), had already achieved cult status among lesbian readers. In one of the 20 letters that make up her Last Words from Montmartre, Qui writes: "After I returned to Paris back in March, sometimes I would walk along the Seine around ten at night and imagine myself writing a novel called Last Words to Those I Have Loved Deeply, and envisioned concluding each individual letter with the words 'Save me'!” While her posthumous book is considered to be a work of fiction which tells the story of lost love, it is also tempting to read it as Qui's semi-autobiographical suicide note. Her fiction cannot be disentangled from her own biography. (Qui's book is dedicated, "For dead little Bunny and Myself, soon dead.") Ultimately, however, Last Words may be read as a Portrait of an Artist as a Young Woman in search of meaning in the pre-Internet world, whether through her heartbreaking romantic relationships, or through the avant-garde literature, films, and sculpture of André Gide, Jean Genet, Andrei Tarkovsky, Theodoros Angelopoulous and Paul Landowski. Qui writes, "I'm an artist, and what I really want is to excel in my art . . . My goal is to experience the depths of life, and to express this through my art. All other accomplishments mean nothing to me. If I can only create a masterpiece that achieves the goal I've fixed my inward gaze upon during my creative journey, my life will not have been wasted." Last Words from Montmartre is that dark and melancholy masterpiece.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marcos Teach

    A shocking sensational queer love story of obsessive and one sided love written with brutal honesty and stark clarity that will chill the reader to the bone. From letters written in a non-linear order, this book presents itself as a meditation of how love can drive someone to madness, an emotion so intoxicating that can consume your every being. Written with sensitivity, candor and dark humor- it is a true meditation that foreshadows the author’s eventual suicide, perhaps of her own mad love?

  25. 4 out of 5

    Phoebe

    i really, really enjoyed last words from montmartre and it's given me a lot to think about. it's a powerful look at the enormity of love, heartbreak, and death, one that doesn't shy away from the real ugly depths of it all. it is an incredibly raw book, both emotionally but honestly technically as well—you can see the writer time would have made qiu into. that being said, the form mirrors the content: the writing is at times unrefined but the narrator's emotional state is raw; it can be repetiti i really, really enjoyed last words from montmartre and it's given me a lot to think about. it's a powerful look at the enormity of love, heartbreak, and death, one that doesn't shy away from the real ugly depths of it all. it is an incredibly raw book, both emotionally but honestly technically as well—you can see the writer time would have made qiu into. that being said, the form mirrors the content: the writing is at times unrefined but the narrator's emotional state is raw; it can be repetitive, but that also speaks how the narrator is desperate to be heard and understood by someone who is shutting them out. i found many descriptive passages to be incredibly beautiful, particularly those in tokyo and the scene on the seine. i found myself struck by some of the insights and perspectives on love, passion, and death, and will carry many of these sentences/phrases around with me for a very long time. (as a note, i use they/them throughout to refer to the narrator, who is a lesbian at times referred to as she/her and at others he/him.) i felt a lot of sympathy for the narrator, and quite a lot more for their ex-girlfriend xu, the intended recipient of the letters, who is so shrouded by the narrative and the strength of the narrator's own emotions that she is not fully seen until the final letter. throughout, the narrator rails against the injustice xu committed against them, while only briefly mentioning the injustice they committed xu, including physical abuse. we have an incredibly unreliable narrator in last words, but not, i believe, a fully unsympathetic one despite that. i found the book to be an interesting and complex, if unpleasant at times, look at the way that when a person is in deep pain, they are only able to recognize the way people have hurt them and not the way they have hurt others. there's at times a self-centeredness to the narrative that comes from the rawness, vulnerability, and intensity of the emotions on display. i felt, at different points, a deep, deep sympathy and a deep antipathy. overall, i was very moved. there's a realness and honesty to this novel. there was no artifice, which may sound odd when i say i was particularly struck by the depiction/exploration of the lies the narrator tells themself, but i found that to be real on a deeper level, that in periods of crisis people will tell themselves whatever they need to believe. there is an intense vulnerability to the text that is in part due to how laid bare the narrator/author makes themself. they lay out their admirable passion and their ugliest bits side by side, stripped bare. there is an undeniable desire to be fully understood before death. i'm finding it difficult to put into words how i feel about the suicide note aspect of this book. i found it profoundly sad. at times it's on the surface and at times just below, shadowing every interaction with the knowledge of their (the narrator's and qiu's) impending, inevitable suicide. i felt this particularly in moments with two different lovers: with yong, the narrator spends their trip to tokyo with death over their head, knowing it will be the last time they see each other, and in a small, sad moment, thinks that all they desire is to live in the light of the sunset on a japanese highway with yong and they'd be okay; with laurence, the narrator reads out their manuscript in a language laurence doesn't speak, and afterward, laurence promises again to take them to greece after they finish their thesis, a trip they never go on. what i found very real and resonant about the book was the highs intermixed with the profound lows. there is normalcy in a deep, suicidal depressive period; there are bright spots and moments of hope and forward thinking. there's the rest of a life until there isn't. last words was a strong reminder too that depression isn't just sadness, it manifests as anger, mood swings, and a complex perspective on life that is at times broad and perceptive and at others self-contained and limited. last words is both the raw, complex, and personal portrait of the months leading up to suicide and a very perceptive look at love and what people owe each other (and don't). i assign this book the taylor swift lyrics "don't blame me, love made me crazy / if it doesn't, you ain't doing it right." a nice pairing with taylor swift's reputation era.

  26. 4 out of 5

    tortoise dreams

    A young Chinese woman in France suffers emotional torment during the failure of a relationship. Book Review: Last Words from Montmartre can be read as several different books, all written by a single author. It's the turbulent story of a failed love affair; for anyone who doubts, an affirmation that lesbians too are human beings; an honest memoir; a 146 page cry (un grito) of despair; a 146 page suicide note; a textbook example of histrionic personality disorder; an intense, detailed analysis and A young Chinese woman in France suffers emotional torment during the failure of a relationship. Book Review: Last Words from Montmartre can be read as several different books, all written by a single author. It's the turbulent story of a failed love affair; for anyone who doubts, an affirmation that lesbians too are human beings; an honest memoir; a 146 page cry (un grito) of despair; a 146 page suicide note; a textbook example of histrionic personality disorder; an intense, detailed analysis and over-analysis of the emotional ramifications of a couple uncoupling; a study of love and need become obsession and pain. No doubt there're more variations, but that should give you an idea of what's contained in here. I was enthralled by Qiu's first book, Notes of a Crocodile, less so by this "novel" (or memoir?). Last Words from Montmartre has the weaknesses of Notes, without its attendant virtues. Virtually every page of the book is a lament over being dumped by a lover. There's no growth, no change in tone, no self-awareness, no plot shift from page one to page 146. The tone consists of the same sorrow, regret, anger that we all suffered (usually in high school) the first time we were dumped by someone. Although in her mid-twenties, and after several adult relationships, it all seems like a teenage diatribe, as when we thought we would never love again, and worse, that no one would ever love us again. She loves, she hates, the lover is cruel, is perfect, she attacks, will never love again, will always love, she readily misunderstands, she longs for death. She hits her lover; she willfully injures herself. Our narrator is not only guilty of the same wrongs she attributes to her lover, but operates at a level of narcissism and emotional overreaction that is scarcely credible, certainly irrational: "Your inner life will never be complete with anyone but me," "to whom I prostrate myself in worship," "I can't understand why you would toss away the treasure that is my presence in your life." She admits that "everyone I've ever loved has treated me poorly," which makes one wonder, what is the common denominator here? All the characters, except for the narrator's French lover, are shadowy and vaguely sketched. But Qiu is passionately committed to the life of the artist. At one point the narrator describes the book: "It won't be a great work of art, but it could be a book of true purity; the detailed, thorough excavation of one very small field of a young person's life." She says, "I'm not brave enough to face every detail of the past three years of beauty and pain (the main plot of the novel). The beauty was too blinding, the pain too cruel." [parenthetical in the original] She also notes that "an artist's work only really moves me if the artist has suffered through profound tragedy and death -- only then can greatness be achieved." All of this is complicated by the biographical fact that Qiu Miaojin committed suicide in Paris the year after her first book was published, a year before Last Words from Montmartre was published. As an insight into the author, much like Sylvia Plath, additional levels of meaning have been placed on this novel by Qiu's fans, apart from its worth as a novel. Those conversations are beyond this review. The translation seems uncertain, especially in Qiu's metaphors: "I've found my way through the labyrinth and left the jungle behind"; is that Qiu or the translation? This must've been quite difficult, however, to translate, though I'm curious how Bonnie Huie, the translator of Notes of a Crocodile might've done. If you're ready to read a book-length description of an open wound, to dig deep into emotion, this is the novel for you. I'm glad I read it, but wouldn't read it again. [2½★]

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cellena Cm

    "Oh... if one were to call this book an unintelligible collection of hieroglyphics with no words and a plot that had long since disappeared, one would be right." The best kind of book. "Oh... if one were to call this book an unintelligible collection of hieroglyphics with no words and a plot that had long since disappeared, one would be right." The best kind of book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Sometimes this was brilliant and captivating, but at others it was boring or confusing. It was difficult to get through, even though I enjoyed it on balance.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Emily Davies (libraryofcalliope)

    (MAJOR TRIGGER WARNINGS FOR MENTION OF SUICIDE) — 𝘏𝘶𝘮𝘢𝘯 𝘯𝘢𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘦 𝘩𝘢𝘴 𝘪𝘵𝘴 𝘧𝘢𝘵𝘢𝘭 𝘸𝘦𝘢𝘬𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘴𝘦𝘴, 𝘣𝘶𝘵 '𝘭𝘰𝘷𝘦' 𝘮𝘦𝘢𝘯𝘴 𝘦𝘮𝘣𝘳𝘢𝘤𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘩𝘰𝘭𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘩𝘶𝘮𝘢𝘯 𝘯𝘢𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘦, 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘢𝘥 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘨𝘰𝘰𝘥, 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘦𝘯𝘪𝘨𝘯 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘮𝘢𝘭𝘪𝘤𝘪𝘰𝘶𝘴, 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘦𝘢𝘶𝘵𝘪𝘧𝘶𝘭 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘵𝘳𝘢𝘨𝘪𝘤. — This is a difficult book to review, partly because of the context. This book is comprised of a series of twenty letters that can supposedly be read in any order, the last being dated 17th June 1995, a date which is notable because the author died by suicide the week a (MAJOR TRIGGER WARNINGS FOR MENTION OF SUICIDE) — 𝘏𝘶𝘮𝘢𝘯 𝘯𝘢𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘦 𝘩𝘢𝘴 𝘪𝘵𝘴 𝘧𝘢𝘵𝘢𝘭 𝘸𝘦𝘢𝘬𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘴𝘦𝘴, 𝘣𝘶𝘵 '𝘭𝘰𝘷𝘦' 𝘮𝘦𝘢𝘯𝘴 𝘦𝘮𝘣𝘳𝘢𝘤𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘩𝘰𝘭𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘩𝘶𝘮𝘢𝘯 𝘯𝘢𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘦, 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘢𝘥 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘨𝘰𝘰𝘥, 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘦𝘯𝘪𝘨𝘯 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘮𝘢𝘭𝘪𝘤𝘪𝘰𝘶𝘴, 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘦𝘢𝘶𝘵𝘪𝘧𝘶𝘭 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘵𝘳𝘢𝘨𝘪𝘤. — This is a difficult book to review, partly because of the context. This book is comprised of a series of twenty letters that can supposedly be read in any order, the last being dated 17th June 1995, a date which is notable because the author died by suicide the week after. Some have called this book part-novel, part suicide note, and I'm not going to go into that debate too much as it is both a complicated and sensitive discussion, one far too series for an short form review like this but I do think it is important to know when approaching the book. The book itself follows a nameless narrator in the aftermath of a broken down relationship as she struggles to process the emotions that she is feeling and the loss of her lover, writing imploring letters to her disecting their relationship at different points and in the different countries they were living in. It is a very experimental style of prose which means it can be a little hard to follow at points but once you start to piece things together it gets very immersive. I definitely found the middle the strongest part, finding the beginning and end a little hard to follow, but overall it is a very sad and beautiful piece of writing. I've been wanting to read this book after reading Notes of a Crocodile, and it's definitely a very different book but it still explores some of the same themes such as lesbian relationships, love, studying and academia, isolation, and alienation.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brad

    Not a great way to start the new reading year. There are moments when Miaojin's writing is quite good, and the book is less of a slog--typically when she's discussing art (such as the films of Theo Angelopoulos) or when she's focused on the lives of the side characters, like Laurence and her affair with Catherine. Unfortunately, most of the book is focused on lengthy descriptions of the narrator's heartbreak, anger, and sorrow following a messy breakup with Xu. And some of that is the worst shit Not a great way to start the new reading year. There are moments when Miaojin's writing is quite good, and the book is less of a slog--typically when she's discussing art (such as the films of Theo Angelopoulos) or when she's focused on the lives of the side characters, like Laurence and her affair with Catherine. Unfortunately, most of the book is focused on lengthy descriptions of the narrator's heartbreak, anger, and sorrow following a messy breakup with Xu. And some of that is the worst shit ever. Observe: "It's easy to categorize corporeal desire as sexuality, but if it has no means of merging with spiritual desire, then a rupture will occur between spirit and flesh. For ultimately passion and sex aren't only expressed physically but through a true union between spirits. When the spirit can truly love and find contentment, both the body and other key aspects of life will fall naturally into place, working in unison, merging." (24) Observe: "Even though my 'unfulfillment' has often caused me to feel frustrated, to suffer, and even to hate Xu temporarily, she never really understood that what she meant to me made up by far for any 'unfulfillment' on my part, and was the most important thing to me....Although it is important to be fulfilled and to fulfill others, now if someone can completely fulfill me and be fulfilled by me, she cannot also be the one whose eternity I desire most of all. My expectations of eros reach far beyond 'fulfillment' and 'being fulfilled.' What I desire the full profundity of eros in my life--the 'eternal.'" (54) Observe: "Your reasons for abandoning me and your judgement about our relationship didn't take in the full picture. You've only cut one small branch from a tree, so it still looks whole. You still don't know that you love me, but in fact you love me deeply. For three years you haven't really tried to 'recognize' its features. One day, perhaps upon your death or mine, you will recognize it. By 'recognize' I mean that you'l finally accept my all-encompassing love for you as a for my own life, and take on this responsibility without it being a burden." (70)

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