The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade - Book Review - Kristopher Cook

The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade

Describing a book like The 120 days of Sodom is like trying to watch a movie sex scene with your parents. It’s uncomfortable, embarrassing and most of all you just want it to end.

This book is one that sits way outside of normal convention, far beyond the pale. For this reason, I’m not entirely sure there’s a genre that fits.

I know that makes it sound like it’s being pitched by a highly enthusiastic first-time author, ‘it’s so out there man’, but I can’t see where it lies. Sure, it’s transgressive, but that’s an amalgamation of different genres itself.

At a push, I’d say erotic literature, and even then there’s nothing erotic about it; unless of course, reading about old men gang-raping teenage prostitutes is your thing?

In contrast, the book is horrifying; not just in content but also in its writing. It’s repetitive and draining – The perfect recipe for disaster.

The book is told from the perspective of the writer, recounting all of the sexual masochism as it happens. He does leave out details at the beginning of the torture as he feels they are too much for our eyes but promises to introduce them in due course.

The reality is, they’re left out to try and cut down on the repetition of the books.

Marquis de Sade

120 Days of Sodom is De Sade’s most recognised book, from his long list of explicit novels. Interestingly, it was written on a 12-meter-long parchment strip over 37 days while imprisoned in Bastille, but the original draft was lost, bringing De Sade to weep ‘tears of blood’.

Original 12-meter-long parchment strip
Original 12-meter-long parchment strip.

In fact, he spent a total of 32 years back and forth between prison and asylums due to his rebellious behaviour, torrents of abuse and general misdemeanour.

In order to know virtue, we must first acquaint ourselves with vice.

When De Sade died in 1814, he was an obese loner, with no money and a social pariah. It was not until nearly one hundred years later that his work was published.

Although not strictly relating to this book, there are several rumours that at least one of De Sade’s books, Justine et Juliette, was bound in human skin. The woman was already dead (much better) but chosen to have the skin of her breast stretched across the binding.

Reports say that there was even a nipple on the cover, but they could be old tales of a man whose legacy seems to stretch way beyond usual constraints – a la Marilyn Manson and his ribs.

No Let Up, No Escape, and No Plot

The book’s viewpoint is that of a narrator, and he keeps the tone conversational, as far as it can feel for a book written in 1904. No crevice is left undescribed, no act left to the imagination. Everything is depicted in all its shock value, and I think that’s my biggest problem with this book; shock value.

Most readers already know a little background about this book, especially given the media outrage of the 1975 film, so a shocking read is to be expected.

However, the shocks become quickly played out and start to feel more like constant jumpscares in a mediocre horror movie. When the writing is terrible, there’s no plot, no notable characters, what is left to talk about? The shocking nature of the book.

The Duke soon imitated his old friend’s little infamy and wagered that, enormous as Invictus’ prick might be, he could calmly down three bottles of wine while lying embuggered upon it.

Marquis De Sade, The First Day

Oh, and everyone has a large 9 – 12-inch cock, each described in all its glory; girth, shape, hardness, it’s all there.

Does Shocking Sell?

All of the above leaves 120 days feeling cheap and worthless. Shocking books still need to have a point, they need to project an image of some kind. Take American Psycho for example; a genuinely appalling book, but ultimately a satire of 90’s upper-class yuppies. And well written, if a little grotesque at times.

120 days does try to hold a political overtone; greedy power-crazed politicians, dukes, religious leaders etc., and how they can get away with the most deprived acts known to human, all because of the power they hold.

Unfortunately, this is about as subtle as a fart in the library. Most of these leaders were born into power, which could have been an interesting point but no. The focus is well and truly on the outlandish nature of their acts.

In fact, I’m going to say that it holds the distinct honour of being the worst book I’ve ever read.

At least a book like Snuff was written to try and entertain. Sure it’s shocking, but this, there’s nothing remotely good what-so-ever. It was written for the sole purpose of shocking, and that is a trope that becomes old rather quickly.

Also, how can a book that is so vile, so scandalous at the same time be so boring? Honestly, after the first thirty pages, everything is in place. The leaders are in the castle, the underage slaves are imprisoned in their rooms, and the whores are telling depraved stories.

The book never changes from its stance or tries to convey any character or meaning.

Closing Thoughts

As you’ve probably gathered, unless of course you blindly looked over this article, in which case; ‘why are you here?’, there’s not much to enjoy in this book.

The book is a complete joke, but I think the joke is on its readers. You and I are the ones who suffer through this cesspool of melancholy masochism and vapid acts of sexual violence – and for what? So we can tick it off our lists as genuinely being the worst book ever?

Congratulations De Sade, you’ve won the race to the bottom of the barrel, smashed a hole in it, and continued towards the centre of hell.

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A gallery of De Sade’s Erotic Drawings

42 Dark Facts About The Marquis De Sade. (2018, October 09). Retrieved from

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