Maybe it's the title or the back-cover blurb, but the impression you might have of Death of a Ladies' Man is that of a lot of laddish humour, smooth patter and pickup lines and plenty of explicit sex scenes, with the protagonist getting his come-uppance at the end. You'd be right in a way, but you also couldn't be more wrong. There's a lot more going on in Bissett's powerfully compelling novel than that.
It's not that the book has any great narrative storyline - the main character is a 30 year-old teacher who lives with his mother after a painful divorce, but has started recently dating one of his colleagues at the school, a more mature 41 year-old woman. Charlie however just can't help himself when it comes to women - he's worked out all the tricks a long time ago, knows what he wants and knows how to get it. Could his ladies man reputation prevent him from a more mature and loving relationship - or is that even what he really wants?
Plot-wise there's nothing here to get too excited about, but the strength of Death of a Ladies' Man rather is in the writing. It's simply dazzling. Perhaps too dazzling for some, with long risky string-of-consciousness passages, and messing about with typefaces and font sizes as a rule generally isn't a good idea. It's what's behind these experiments that counts however and, although in some respects the book is just an updating of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Bissett makes it relevant and purposeful, placing it within the context of the environment of our society, questioning the attitudes and morals of the world we live in today - getting to grip with what women want as well as men.
Contrary to what you would expect then, there's no lazy characterisation in Death of a Ladies' Man. The title actually comes from Leonard Cohen, and the novel is seeped in the songwriters mood and influence, finding a poetic melancholy behind Charlie's actions. Bissett then cuts through autonomic behaviour, social conformity, the laws of attraction, the art of seduction and gets to the human qualities underneath. Can we beat the programming or is there a high price to pay? Bissett's book likewise goes further than most, is occasionally shocking and explicit, sounds like it has been ripped up painfully from the soul of the writer, but it's a risk that more than pays off.