Friday, September 26, 2008
Lila Says by Chimo
Explicitly graphic and exquisitely gorgeous, Lila Says is part Catcher in the Rye, part Lolita, and part je ne sais quoi. Ostensibly written by Chimo, a writer-in-the-raw nineteen year old Arab boy living in the Parisian projects, Lila Says follows the relationship he has with Lila, a sixteen year old Roman Catholic girl. The novella is supposedly straight out of the notebooks sent in by Chimo, and some controversy ensued about the identity of the author.
Lila and Chimo's relationship begins with an act of heavy petting on a moving bicycle, which is as odd as would be expected. Though no other intimacies happen between them, Lila treats Chimo as a confidante and tells him her darkest and wildest sexual fantasies. She may have the face of an angel, but she has "all those words popping out of her mouth like snakes." Chimo is mute during most of Lila's serpentine monologues. It's plain that Chimo is a virgin, or at least very inexperienced, but he wants to know more -- yet he worries that he'll lose her if he does more. It's a complicated situation, for Lila offers every kind of devious delicacy that any modern nineteen year old would have problems passing by. She details buffets of debauchery, and Chimo can't wait to get home to record in his notebooks.
There is no spoiler in saying that this tragedy doesn't end well. But it is worth noting that the ending of the novella differs from the film adaptation with the beguiling Vahina Giaconte as Lila. I first came across the film and was so captivated by it that afterwards I ordered the DVD and tracked down a copy of the novella. The film and the novella differ in other ways: the film offers more background on Chimo and gets a bit deeper into his relationship with his ghetto friends; and, of course, the endings are significantly different, both tragically -- but one more so than the other.
Due to the very graphic language of this novella, it could easily be viewed as erotica and often leaps into pornographic lasciviousness. Erotica has literary pretensions; porn only wants to titillate. Some of the scenes that Lila describes are Penthouse-letter hardcore, yet they are juxtaposed with Chimo's perplexed innocence. The writing is at times fine and fresh, though other times it drags and is a bit dry.
And so there is a bit of moral quandary, is this filth or is this fine art? Perhaps it is a bit of both. Perhaps it exists in that gray world of filthy fine art. The book flap situates Lila Says between Marguerite Duras' The Lover and Pauline Reage's Story of O. In certain hands, these books would be banned and burned; in other hands, they would be regaled and recommended.