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Editorial Reviews

Tropic of Cancer is Henry Miller's 1934 "autobiography as novel" about the impoverished, middle-aged writer's expatriate sojourn in depression-era Paris and France. Banned in the US until 1961 for its sexual content, Tropic of Cancer has been and remains a literary classic of a unique sort. "A dirty book worth reading," Ezra Pound famously wrote, as he went on to compare it to James Joyce's Ulysses. Prominent 1930s literati — including T. S. Eliot, John Dos Passos, Aldous Huxley, and George Orwell — joined in praising this non-literary, literary work.

Campbell Scott's narrative style has a unique stamp. His baseline technique in Tropic of Cancer is the dampening of his voice, joined with a masterly expressive control that emanates from this restriction. The effect is a quite strong sense of, and control over, mood and an intimate narrative connection with the individual listener. Scott's approach is suggestive of sotto voce, literarily "under speaking", similar to that bit of news spoken by a friend through a cupped hand in lowered tones into your ear — in the Age of iPod, the narrator speaking through your earphones. Scott moves fluently from this baseline into the very lively stuff of Miller's tropes, riffs and rhetoric, and comically charmed outrages. Scott hits the marks, even as a tonal resonance of intimate communication remains constant. And Henry Miller's narrative voice? George Orwell observed, in his 1940 essay "Inside the Whale", "Read him for five pages, ten pages, and you feel the peculiar relief that comes not so much from understanding as from being understood. 'He knows all about me,' you feel. 'It is as though you could hear a voice speaking to you...with no humbug in it, no moral purpose, merely an implicit assumption that we are all alike.'"

With their production of Tropic of Cancer, Harper Audio and Campbell Scott have reached an elusive artistic benchmark: that point where the voice of the author and the voice of the narrator converge. —David Chasey

Publisher's Summary

Now hailed as an American classic, Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller's masterpiece, was banned as obscene in this country for 27 years after its first publication in Paris in 1943. Only a historic court ruling that changed American censorship standards, ushering in a new era of freedom and frankness in modern literature, permitted the publication of this first volume of Miller's famed mixture of memoir and fiction, which chronicles with unapologetic gusto, the bawdy adventures of a young expatriate writer, his friends, and the characters they meet in Paris in the 1930s. Tropic of Cancer is now considered, as Norman Mailer said, "one of the 10 or 20 great novels of our century".
©1961 Grove Press, Inc.; (P)2008 HarperCollins Publishers

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  • Jennifer
  • Petawawa, Ontario, Canada
  • 01-19-09

a lexical magician!

You have to know what you're getting into with Henry Miller as his works may at times come across as utterly tasteless. For some people (myself incl.) those moments make me laugh so much I cry! Not a book to necessarily delve into in public places...but this author has a lexicon that is true genius.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • chris
  • las vegas, NV, United States
  • 09-15-08


This is the same narrator for many audiobooks I've purchased. Initially, his voice sounds very monotone and boring but after a while it flows. I think this one is very well done. I tried to read this book several times in my life, but the audiobook makes it much easier to digest, listening to it 30 minutes here... 30 minutes there. on the way to work, while going to bed, etc. Great book.

23 of 26 people found this review helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 11-11-12

A madman who dances with lightening in his hands

“When into the womb of time everything is again withdrawn chaos will be restored and chaos is the score upon which reality is written.”

This is one of those amazing books that does violence to your system (think Lolita, Naked Lunch, Ulysses) but still leaves you gobsmacked by its brilliance. IT is the brazen, tortured soul of a man going through an existential crises in Paris. The novel is a cry in the dark; a delirious shout in the void. Miller's prose dances on the edge of the cracked mirror of Modernism. It is dazzling, sharp and extremely dangerous.

This is NOT a novel for the weak, the timid, the easily shocked or those that believe art exists (or should exist) without shadows. Miller lifts the sheets and describes the decay, the despair and the rot of humanity. If you are not prepared for the monstrous vision of Miller you won't be able to find the roses in the dung heap, and thus you will be unable to question your own desire for roses in the first place.

30 of 35 people found this review helpful

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  • Washington, DC, United States
  • 04-08-12

So much poetry, so little plot

I had read this decades ago. I wasn't all that impressed. But hearing it read aloud makes the poetry come through. There is a lot of musing on life and Paris and friends: and that is lovely to listen to. There really isn't any plot, just some extended narrative and a few anecdotes. I thought the narrator did a good job of playing the observer that Henry Miller was. My only complaint was that it needed more chapter breaks.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Kelly
  • 04-16-14

A great sordid classic

Would you consider the audio edition of Tropic of Cancer to be better than the print version?

Not entirely - only for the purpose of listening to it in my car.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Tropic of Cancer?

Van Norden's tirade about microphones in his trousers

Have you listened to any of Campbell Scott’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No I haven't. Even though I like Campbell Scott as an actor and enjoyed his narration, I didn't feel that it matched what I expected, which was more of a Brooklyn accent.

Who was the most memorable character of Tropic of Cancer and why?

Mona stood out for me, as she was like a ghost, weaving in and out of the story. (Mona was based on Miller's second wife June - who was also like a ghost in his life). The other characters, including Henry, are quite sordid and hopeless.

Any additional comments?

Paris and the left bank, in the early 1900's, was often romanticized, and for the most part - rightly so. With 'Tropic of Cancer' though, you get it warts and all - the bed bugs, lice and cockroaches - the poverty, sleeping on straw, moldy cheeses and breads, rancid butter etc. The pendulum also swings to the other side where you have the 'swanky' side of life, the prostitutes, the sex, the great meals. You also have to wade through crap like women being referred to as 'c*nts' - however - believe me, it's worth it for the rhapsodizing and for the history. It's interesting, funny, has great dialogue and is a kind of sordid classic!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • jorge
  • Huejutla, Mexico
  • 10-03-11

Loved it.

I liked the story, the performance, everything. The tone of the book and Campbell mix so nice. It was an amazing experience.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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outstanding outstanding outstanding

What an incredible book! Henry Miller was brilliant. His mixture of filth and fantasy was perfect. I'll never be the same. I recommend this 100%.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Fernando
  • North Hollywood, CA, USA
  • 02-27-09

amazing book. horrible narrator.

the book has been bestowed so much praise already that nothing more can be said about it. it is simply perfect.

the narration on the other hand leaves MUCH to be desired. campbell scott has managed to deflate and take out the life of what is a joyful and celebratory book.

his monotone, droning voice is diametrically opposed to what the work is about. he brings a dour, somber, and exhausted tone to something that should be vibrant and alive. i imagine that henry miller would probably just want to punch him in the mouth.

what a waste of brilliant piece on such a poor narrator. after listening to Jeremy Irons ecstatic and euphoric read of Lolita this is a definite letdown.

8 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Sorry but not for me

Supposedly this is an important work due to it's obscenity troubles etc. but aside from that, I didn't find it all that well written, I was not engaged by the characters, and ultimately I felt it was not worth the time and very over-rated. There is nothing here that I don't fell isn't better done by Nabokov, Joyce, Hemingway, etc. Can't recommend it nor do I intend to listen to more Miller if/when it becomes available. My time is better spent elsewhere.

6 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Tell again why?

Let me say first off, I'm not a romance or sensual book lover (I wouldn't even stretch it to say I liked them). I can see why this was banned and out of print for so long. I read this for a book group, but would NEVER have wasted my time to plug through it otherwise. Soft porn anyone?

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