Expat Isham Cook lives a highly ordered life of the mind and is not one to be swayed by circumstance, until his dispassionate existence is tripped up by Cookie, an elusive woman glimpsed around his gritty Beijing neighborhood. He then becomes captivated by the flamboyant eroticism of a woman on the subway, Luna, who radically overhauls his most basic preconceptions. A third beauty of ambiguous Asiatic ethnicity, Adalat, is as unknowable as the others and incites a new obsession. Finally, a fourth character appears, one capable of pulling apart the very coordinates of Isham's reality.
A hypnotic journey of a novel, with idea bombs going off along the way, Lust & Philosophy is mind-rape as literature, a fairytale on acid, and a holographic Rorschach test all in one, and will appeal to fans of Hermann Hesse, Philip K. Dick, J. G. Ballard and other novelists of the uncanny.
In Cook’s (Massage and the Writer, 2014, etc.) wide-ranging novel, an intellectual travels the globe in the company of his desires.
Isham, the book’s protagonist, travels across continents and through cities such as Beijing; Chicago; Varanasi, India; and Marburg, Germany. He’s always pursuing his twin interests: the life of the mind and the life of the flesh. To those ends, he goes to various universities, pilgrimage sites and even the Great Wall of China, accompanied by a rotating cast of women. His musings on one of them, a voluptuous Chinese woman named Adalat, nicknamed “Cookie,” begin and end the novel. Cook offers dreamlike scenes of Isham’s relationship with her, interpolated by Isham’s romps with other women—chief among them the sexually obsessed Luna. Isham sees artistic and philosophical resonance in all of the events of his life, such as when he equates the sensual draw of Luna with the actions of the Archangel Gabriel: “Erotic intelligence is the capacity to captivate, even entrap, a person sexually, without the application of force….Gabriel was able to accomplish this in the Annunciation with a robe and a few key gestures.” Isham proceeds to various locations around the world, followed by students’ allegations of sexual harassment and pervasive memories of his earlier life; soon, the story oscillates between different times and places. Ultimately, the novel ends where it began in Beijing, but Isham himself is completely changed. Cook writes in a style that will appeal to readers who like their texts thick with allusion and their narrators unreliable. However, despite this style, the text is never difficult to follow. Cook provides readers with a strong sense of place; even when the narrative transitions are swift, he always makes clear exactly where his characters are. In Isham, the author offers a character that is, by turns, endearing and frustrating, and this makes him a thoroughly realistic human being.
A visceral novel that explores many different lusts and cultures.