Three generations of Parisian courtesans exert their wiles on a series of none-too-bright men and get rich in the process.
Somewhere inside the flouncing linguistic twirls of Mossanen’s follow-up to Harem (2002), a novel waits to be born. But wait it must, as pages flutter and unfold like so many layers of veils. The grande dame at the center of it all is Madame Gabrielle, courtesan of legend, so well-known among the fashionably naughty that her bed itself—named Seraglio—is reputedly one of the most powerful aphrodisiacs in France. Her chateau is a thing of wanton decadence, filled with paintings and treasures from her many lovers, admirers and customers, thick with Oriental décor, an opium-lover’s dream. Her granddaughter Simone doesn’t seem to want to follow in the family way (though Gabrielle’s daughter, Françoise, is also a courtesan), but instead desires to do strange things like ride horses, wear bloomers, pack revolvers and run off to marry (for love) a Persian jeweler named Cyrus. All of this upsets Françoise no end, especially after she’s tried to bring Simone “into her universe of senses.” But Simone does marry Cyrus, thus allowing his subsequent murder and her avenging hunt to comprise the closest thing to drama Mossanen is able to summon here. In time-skipping fashion, the bulk of the story traces the back and forth between Simone and her matriarchs; her love of Cyrus; some terribly uninteresting theatrics about the South African diamond trade and a fair amount of hooey all around. Mossanen is a sensualist, to be sure, but that isn’t enough to make this a pleasurable read, even with all the decadent lounging and pseudo-magic-realist touches (Oscar Wilde’s ghost pops by for a visit; apparently even he couldn’t resist Gabrielle’s moves).
Love of a romanticized time period—not to mention of perfumes and tacky fabrics—masquerading as fiction.