“The Marbled Swarm is Dennis Cooper’s most haunting work to date. In secret passageways, hidden rooms, and the troubled mind of our narrator, a mystery perpetually takes shape—and the most compelling clue to its final nature is “the marbled swarm” itself, a complex amalgam of language passed down from father to son.
Cooper ensnares the reader in a world of appearances, where the trappings of high art, old money, and haute cuisine obscure an unspeakable system of coercion and surrender. And as the narrator stalks an elusive truth, traveling from the French countryside to Paris and back again, the reader will be seduced by a voice only Dennis Cooper could create.”
Thoughts: Before anyone contemplates reading The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper, please note that the language is extremely rough, but more importantly the subject matter is seriously disturbing. One could take this as a sign of Mr. Cooper’s genius in that he challenges the reader’s sensibilities, or one could believe that Mr. Cooper may need to seek psychiatric help for his depraved subject matter. No matter what one feels about the main character of his novel however, one must laud Mr. Cooper for his ability to play with the language, rendering it completely unfamiliar and forcing the reader to wrest any meaning through painstaking and careful reading.
To say The Marbled Swarm is a difficult read is an understatement of the greatest magnitude; it makes Nabokov’s Lolita seem like a children’s bedtime story. First off, there is the narrator and his actions as he takes the reader through his horrific past and gruesome present. He surrounds himself with friends who share his more perverse proclivities, and some of the scenes about his “hobby” that ensue make the bloodiest horror movie pale in comparison. Even worse are his actions towards his brother and the horrible mental game his father unknowingly played with both his brother and him. The entire backstory of the narrator is enough to send shivers up and down the spine of the reader or send one running to the bathroom before losing one’s stomach contents.
Yet, this is a novel that one is compelled to continue reading. The reader never really knows if the narrator is telling the truth or presenting his past as he would prefer it to have happened. The Marbled Swarm could be construed as one huge psychological study on the use of language to obfuscate the truth. As upsetting as the narrator’s story is, the possibility that it is all a delusion allows the reader to power through to the end in order to resolve the mystery without having to question one’s own mindset.
The Marbled Swarm is disturbing in its depravity but absolutely brilliant in its use of language. It is one novel that is not going to attract a large following because it is one of the most challenging reads ever published. For those readers who persevere, one will be rewarded with an entirely new appreciation for the English language and the power of words to hide or tell the truth.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to Erica Barmash from Harper Perennial for my review copy and for bringing to my attention some of the most challenging books I have ever had the pleasure of reading!