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Margery Kempe

Margery Kempe

by Robert Glück, introduction by Colm Tóibín

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First published in 1994, Robert Glück’s Margery Kempe is one of the most provocative, poignant, and inventive American novels of the last quarter century. The book tells two stories of romantic obsession. One, based on the first autobiography in English, the medieval Book of Margery Kempe, is about a fifteenth-century woman from East Anglia, a visionary, a troublemaker, a pilgrim to the Holy Land, and an aspiring saint, and her love affair with Jesus. It is complicated. The other is about the author’s own love for an alluring and elusive young American, L. It is complicated. Between these two Margery Kempe, the novel, emerges as an unprecedented exploration of desire, devotion, abjection, and sexual obsession in the form of a novel like no other novel. Robert Glück’s masterpiece bears comparison with the finest work of such writers as Kathy Acker and Chris Kraus. This edition includes an essay by Glück about the creation of the book titled "My Margery, Margery's Bob."

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681374314
Pages: 192
Publication Date:


At once embracing and thwarting two worlds, two centuries, two sensibilities, what a subtle and powerful amalgam is Margery! Gluck's exquisitely controlled, sensuously textured writing evokes a deeply integrated ecstatic vision that in the end spares us nothing—being nuanced and brutal, passionate and colored with levity, elegant and outrageous.
—Lydia Davis

Glück’s story about Margery . . . is like falling upward into a long dream about sex and Jesus, in Glück’s hands a spectacle, visceral and sublime. . . . By the end, Margery Kempe felt to me like a mingling of Vita Sackville-West’s biography of Joan of Arc and the sort of pulp gay erotic fiction I found in porn stores in the 1980s—the illustrated covers feathery from years of being held, read, and put down—and yet also somehow firmly within the tradition of any mural on any church or cathedral in Florence.
—Alexander Chee, Bookforum

Robert Glück explores nuances of love never annotated before.
—Edmund White

Margery Kempe is a little-known late-twentieth-century classic, counterpoising sexual mores in the wake of the AIDS epidemic with the devastation of the European countryside at the end of the Hundred Years’ War. Glück is an acute and unsentimental observer of gestures, botany, skies, and cuisine. He captures the feeling and flow of the late Middle Ages, when "mobility and chance were beginning," and brings that world close to his own. Glück brilliantly locates the (New Narrative) impulse toward first-person narration in time and despair. He observes the turning of centuries. As he writes, "Margery steps into modernity so empty she needs an autobiography."
—Chris Kraus, Bookforum

The writing is lovely. With the subtlety of the obvious, Glück collapses the centuries that separate the two storylines and zips up the space between erotic and religious devotion. Margery’s orgasms are God-given, a mingling of godhead and maiden, an ecstasy of body and spirit. Aren’t most of us as mystified by our sexuality as we are by divinity? Why not consider the former with the awe we reserve for the latter?
—Julia Berick, The Paris Review

Glück’s most beautiful work of fiction . . . The novel stands alone in Glück’s oeuvre, not for its wildness—his lucid, precise descriptions of sex distinguish each of his four volumes of fiction—but for its ambiguity. . . . The sense of sex as the summation of many minds and bodies, deeply personal in origin yet ultimately unmoored from the baggage of individual preference, makes moments in this often disturbing book gleam with the feeling of utopia.
—Daniel Felsenthal, The Baffler

By the bold device of telling two stories in terms of each other (one of Margery Kempe and Jesus, and the other of a twentieth-century love affair), Robert Glück has produced a book without precedent. This novel brings to mind the huge wings of a painted angel—a texture of brilliant richness covered regularly with small, detailed shadows of implication.
—Thom Gunn

Margery Kempe [is] a touchstone of queer experimental writing. . . . The religious scaffolding is not simply an allegorical means of relating a love story, but a structure of feeling appropriate to the ravages of contemporary experience.
—Cam Scott, Berfrois

In some ways, the style of this novel resembles the terse, declarative expository prose that is taught as best practice in some MFA programs. Here, however, the accumulation of detail does not lend Glück’s text a neutral perspective. Instead, every detail is fused with, and compromised by, the desire which spans over the entire observational field.
—Will Hall, Full Stop

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