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Not a novel
on 20 December 2010
Henry and June is an assemblage from the diaries of Anaïs Nin, who had an affair with Henry Miller in 1931-2. As it begins, Nin has just written a piece on Lawrence's Chatterley, appropriately since Henry and June is explicitly erotic. Nin was married at the time, and she writes: 'The liberty which I have given myself in Hugo's name [her husband], like a gift from him, only increases the richness and potency of my love for him. Amorality, or a more complicated morality, aims at the ultimate loyalty and overlooks the immediate and literal one.' Considerations of loyalty, though, soon get ditched as Nin and Henry Miller fall in love with each other. Meanwhile, Nin also makes fresh conquests, including her psychoanalyst. And the tale is made all the spicier by her attraction to June, Henry's temporarily absent wife. If this were a contemporary novel, it would risk falling flat, a tale of perversion from which today's sexual mores would have removed all the courage. But that it is drawn from Nin's own testimony and that it belongs to the 1930s, a time when female sexuality was still essentially taboo, makes it an extraordinary document. At the same time, it is worth noting that because it is not a novel, Henry and June does not read like one, missing the character development, plotting, and context that makes the reader turn the pages of a piece of fiction. Indeed, while Nin's confessions are interesting to consider, they eventually get repetitive, and even her daring eroticism ceases to surprise in the end.