Novelization takes something more than words. I’ve never watched Last Tango in Paris, to be honest, but I can say that this book by Robert Alley has provided me with something that screen visualization can never give. The deep characterization, the beautiful language, the atmosphere, this novel has it all. Having read it, I immediately decided that Last Tango in Paris is not merely about sex.
The story reveals an encounter between two people, Paul and Jeanne, in a certain part of Paris. The moment they set eyes on each other, lust and desire flare up so strong that both can’t help having sex. Paul, having found his wife committing suicide, seeks for an escape from his loneliness and emptiness, while Jeanne, a committed young woman with a fiancé, blindly looks for something “different”, some challenge to face. She wants to get away from her daily straight life, to take a chance, exploring the unknown experiences. Unexpectedly, the brief sex continues and becomes an inevitable habit, hidden behind the closed doors of the abandoned apartment they occupy occasionally in secret in Rue Jules Verne. Everything just happens in a flash. They don’t know each other, don’t even bother to introduce themselves, they don’t care what happens or has happened to each of them before coming over to the apartment, and they only have sex for the sake of pleasure and, I would say, escapism.
Paul and Jeanne can be described as unexplainable characters, with complexities intricate enough to make us wonder. Sex is the only tie knotting those troubled two, for they are not of the same ilk. They are looking for something, that’s for sure, but what drive them to search are two different, and complicated, things. Paul may be a rude, arrogant, hateful person, but inside he is lonely and empty, hungry for love and affection. And Jeanne, on the contrary, is a loving young woman, nice, gentle, and sexy, yet she is also a wild one within, a wild one who seeks for a challenge and a way to leave the straight and narrow, although at the end, she desperately wants to get back on track.
To all outward appearances, Last Tango in Paris is merely a story of sex and lust, desire and an unattached relationship. From the beginning to the end, Robert Alley seems to unrelentingly, and unrestrictedly, narrate numerous lustful and unexplainable sex scenes and talks on nonsense. But, under the passionate surface, it’s about lonely hearts and anger, depression, frustration, lost souls. It’s about people searching for something that can ease their pain, erase their uneasiness. People often do that in order to get away from their confusing, troubled lives. When they are in distress, they’ll easily run away, looking for an escapism where they can be safe and forget, where they can pretend that life is not the way it’s presented to them and where they don’t have to, if only it actually is, deal with it.
Last Tango in Paris is not a story narrated in an extraordinary way, instead, it is told in a simple narrative and straight storyline, without twists and turns to make us puzzle over it, or to trigger more of our interest, for that matter. But it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have anything to present to the reader. Alley has successfully injected emotional spirits into the characters, described them thoroughly and faultlessly in words. When you read the whole novel, you may only see two hungry, lost, troubled people, but when you get deeper into its words you’ll find their real natures, you’ll see through them. All that narrative and description are packaged in a romantic, dramatic language, where Alley uses dialogues and sentences as his tools for dragging the reader into the depth of the characters of Paul and Jeanne and their sad, grim encounter story. I’d frankly say that, whether or not he’s successful in adapting a notable movie into a book, Alley has definitely succeeded in creating a good novel.
All in all, Last Tango in Paris is not a depressing novel, though it has a depressing story, for it is narrated in a terrific way and presented wonderfully. Robert Alley has it in him to describe both main characters deeply and emotionally with his ordinary yet sense-provoking sentences, showing clearly that this book is not only about sex.