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Torture Garden

Author: Octave Mirbeau

Translator: Michael Richardson   Cover design: Marie Lane  

This hideously decadent fin de siecle novel by the French anarchist Mirbeau has become an underground classic. A cynical first half exposes the rottenness of politics, commerce and the petit bourgeois; in the second half, our totally corrupt narrator travels to China and meets the extraordinary Clara. She shows him the Torture Garden, a place of exotic flowers and baroque sadism. There are satirical and allegorical dimensions, but it remains irreducibly horrible.

Phil Baker in The Sunday Times

A century after its first publication, this book is still capable of shocking. The opening satire is probably meaningful only to scholars of French political history, but the subsequent journey into the Far East accentuates connections between love and death, sex and depravity, fastidiousness and pleasure. And the petty, parochial corruptions of the narrator are put into context by the immersion into the Sadeian world of the Torture Garden.

The Times

First published in 1898 this decadent classic flays civilised society down to its hypocritical bones and is le dernier cri in kinky exoticism.

Anne Billson in Time Out

Clara scorns civilisation, which tortures people in secret rather than proudly and openly amidst the floral orgy of the Chinese garden. She favours unrestrained gardening(with human compost)and argues for the preservation of 'the adorable myths of naive religions' with all the manic fervour of a contemporary conservationist.

Elizabeth Young in City Limits

Oscar Wilde recommended Torture Garden to Frank Harris, describing it as 'revolting ... a sort of grey adder.'

Oscar Wilde

First published in Paris's scandal-soaked fin de siecle by a French anarchist with a taste for exposing political corruption and a unique slant on sadism, Torture Garden has always been a distinctly underground favourite until now.That's unlikely to remain so, not so much because of Mirbeau's political attitudes - which have a stunningly modern staccato brashness - but because of his distinctly kinky eroticism. The story takes us from the backstabbing Parisian chattering classes to the hidden pleasures and pains of a Chinese torture garden. Mirbeau asks which of the two societies is really the more civilised, but even modern readers will find themselves reeling at the extent to which he clearly loves to wallow in decadence.

The Scotsman

The Torture Garden by Mirbeau: a quite stunning investigation into the furthest extremities of physical love. Almost post-modern in style and structure, it is a genuinely intelligent, and therefore deeply unsettling, work.

Philip Kane in The Independent on Sunday

A fin de siecle horror story. In his introduction, Brian Stableford writes that Torture Garden,' is provocatively disagreeable and essentially indigestible'. I certainly couldn't digest it, and wouldn't want to.

The Independent on Sunday

Dedalus Books have been responsible for re-issuing some real curios over the last few years or so and they’re continue to find tarnished gems with this latest release which was once described as the most sickening work of art of the nineteenth century. (Naturally Oscar Wilde also had a view labelling it as “revolting… a sort of grey adder” – which has got to be a compliment coming from him.) The first half is intended to be something of a satire, but will probably only raise a titter from those who know a thing or two about French political history of the time; but the second half follows a young man’s journey as he travels to China to meet the extraordinary Clara who introduces him to the torture garden, a place of exotic flowers and baroque sadism… Naturally today, when the weirdest notions and images are merely a click away on the net, this is not as shocking as it would have been on publication, but some it is still sufficiently jarring to put you off your lunchtime bagel (particularly after the bucket, rat, buttocks episode…)

DP in The Crack

First published in 1899, the same year as Conrad's Heart of Darkness(which, in a sado-masochistic way, it mirrors), this short tale takes place in a Far Eastern garden in which torture is practised as an art form. Amidst exquisite flowers and gorgeous fauna, bodies are sliced, flayed and prised open with sumptuous artisanal skill,the whole scene rendered in prose as visceral and tender as the action it describes. When the staid realist novels of the mid-20th century have been consigned to the oblivion they so richly deserve, this text will be remembered as a classic.

Tom McCarthy in Esquire

Originally published in 1899, writer and political activist Octave Mirbeau’s avant-garde classic is both a savage takedown of the bourgeoisie and a surreal study in kinkiness. Although hard going at the beginning, its dense satire on murder and 19th century French politics gives way to a compelling second half where the anti-hero narrator travels to the luscious garden of a Chinese prison with his mistress, Clara. There, a horror story of extreme torture plays out amid the cherry trees and hibiscus, much to the delight of Clara. Not everyone will be taken with Mirbeau’s heady mix of stylised sadism and anarchic rage, but if fin-de-siècle decadence is your cup of tea, look no further than this forgotten curio.

Alice Hughes in Buzz Magazine

Yet it's undeniably compelling, too, and even if the tale isn't ideally structured, Mirbeau impresses both with his writing and his imagination. Wild stuff indeed.

M.A.Orthofer in the Complete Review

RRP: £9.99

No. of pages: 210

Publication date: 26.03.2019

ISBN numbers:
978 1 912868056
978 1 909232 39 6

World English language in this translation.