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Torture Garden by [Mirbeau, Octave]
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Torture Garden Kindle Edition

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Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1002 KB
  • Print Length: 141 pages
  • Publisher: Birchgrove Press (18 Oct. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B009TAG7JU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #378,088 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 review
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars JennifersLookingGlass.tumblr.com 30 Sept. 2013
By J - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Torture Garden by Octave Mirbeau opens to a drawing room conversation by society's elite regarding the nature of man and his inherent, to-be-indulged brutality--in fact, their attitude is self-congratulatory on their `evolved' opinions. These effete men are interrupted in their posing by a faded man who tells them of his journey and the haunting impact it had upon him.

As the begrudgingly indispensible henchman to a corrupt politician, the protagonist (we never learn his name) is sent to far-off lands under the false reputation of being an embryologist on a government-funded scientific study. While en route, he becomes besotted with Clara, a coquettish traveler who masterfully and quickly entices the criminal and convinces him to accompany her to China. He suffers a crisis of conscience in the face of one whom he considers to be pure, confessing all of his crimes and viewing himself as able to salvage his corrupted soul. Their love affair runs its course enough for the criminal to leave for a couple of years (this is not explained). When he returns, exhausted from the journey, Clara coerces him (quite cruelly) to come with her to view the prisons--what seems to be one of her favorite pastimes.

Through the criminal's eyes we are taken on a macabre expedition in which wealthy patrons buy putrid meat at the marketplace for the sole purpose of watching the condemned fight for these scraps. The torture garden is attached to the prison and upon first entering, the criminal believes he has found paradise--the air is crisp and clear, the flowers are beyond beautiful (and truly, Mirbeau's abilities are exceptional in evoking a sense of the lush environment), but the price for all of this loveliness is steep. The condemned are tortured and executed, creating a striking juxtaposition between the inhumane treatment and the shining example of nature's beauty. We are left with the impression that the greater impact upon the criminal is his forced awakening to Clara's sadistic nature rather than the atrocities that he witnessed.

Written at the turn of the 19th century, the misogynistic themes are to be expected ("Among women there are no moral categories--only social categories." / "[...] and between the Indian grass and the reeds smaller carp swam back and forth, like evil thoughts in a woman's brain."). Regardless of the stage set by the drawing room males' endorsement of inequality, the true horror is Clara's embrace of it. Despite this, what was surprising was the acknowledgement of women's true power: "Woman possesses the cosmic force of an element, an invincible force of destruction, like nature's. She is, in herself alone, all nature!" Hence, the fear of women's power and its equation of beauty with suffering. Clara becomes the embodiment of a beautiful woman in love with death.

Torture Garden is not for the faint of heart. While it may be considered mild by today's standards of gore and violence, the impact comes in the heavy sociological message underpinning the book: Are we truly civilized, or is that a veneer for our baser impulses? Can humankind ever truly evolve? There is a quote towards the end of the book that captures this message perfectly: "Ah, yes! the Torture Garden! Passions, appetites, greed, hatred, and lies; law, social institutions, justice, love, glory, heroism, and religion: these are its monstrous flowers and its hideous instruments of eternal human suffering. What I saw today, and what I heard, exists and cries and howls beyond this garden, which is no more than a symbol to me of the entire earth."
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