The Curse of the Marquis de Sade weaves together the journey of the manuscript that became 120 Days of Sodom and the rise and fall of Lhéritier, once the 'king of manuscripts' and now known to many as the Bernie Madoff of France.
Warner’s research and extensive interviews help him shuttle across centuries to depict remarkable characters ... The Curse of the Marquis de Sade is nevertheless more demure than one might expect. Warner’s narrative tracks the scroll across centuries but never really delves into its content ... The absence of readings like this in Warner’s book is unfortunate because the enigma surrounding a manuscript’s value — the ballooning price of a brittle scroll bearing an infamous but rarely read novel — is his story’s major theme. As disputes over the scroll intensify in the book, readers might wonder why we value anything.
Spanning hundreds of years and multiple countries, The Curse of the Marquis de Sade is impressive in scope. Warner admirably keeps all the storylines moving, and a list of characters included at the beginning of the book is a helpful reminder of who’s who in each timeline ... Warner excels at explaining Lhéritier’s complex — and possibly criminal — business operations in easy-to-understand language. And his depiction of France’s lively rare-manuscript community is a fascinating look at a largely hidden subculture ... at times feels disjointed and fragmented, with chapters jumping 100 years forward in the timeline and then back again. The shifting chronology creates a sense of mystery but can also make for a somewhat confusing reading experience. Still, given the breadth of the book’s subject matter, Warner admirably ties his three storylines together...
The journey of the scroll makes up 1 of 3 overlapping narratives in The Curse of the Marquis de Sade; it parallels a biography of Sade’s life, with a catalog of his repeated arrests and imprisonments for blasphemy, sodomy, and rape. These depravities, in turn, are interspersed with a third narrative, subtitled 'The Empire of Letters,' which follows the scroll in recent decades, when an entirely different form of lawlessness came to be associated with Sade ... The one thing largely absent... is the novel itself, The 120 Days of Sodom. While the manuscript—the physical book—is discussed at length, Warner, like many of his subjects, seems to not really want to talk about the text itself ... And while the history of the manuscript itself is more than fascinating enough to justify Warner’s book, it may be worth reinvestigating Sade’s own writing, and what value—if any—it has for us these days.