Well golly gosh, mon dieu. It really has just occurred to me what a very serious mood I must have been in on Saturday to write such an incredibly severe post!! You will all be glad to know I have treated myself to a bottle of wine and a whole lot of sunshine since and, although my musings of course still stand, I am finally entering into Paris in July with a lighter heart. Thank heavens.
I thought this marvellous month hosted by Karen and Tamara every year would be, as usual, the perfect chance to flex my French muscles and start reading some of the incredibly sexy Folio editions of French classics that have been languishing on my shelves for so long. What did I plump for? The translated Penguin edition of Les Enfants Terribles by Jean Cocteau. Completely cheating but oh so very good all the same.
What did I hope for as I opened this slim edition? A deliciously existentialist, aloof, completely confunding French novella to kick start my je ne sais quoi. Happily that is exactly what I found. Eisabeth and Paul are a brother and sister coexisting in their own juvenile world or their ‘Game’ as they prefer to refer to it. Living in a two bed apartment in Paris with their sick (and therefore absentee) mother, the pair have an incredibly volatile, odd relationship, often forgetting themselves entirely and sinking further into a sinister world where naughty schoolboys become mythical heroes and unwitting friends the pawns in their poisonous game.
Playing with themes of incest, life, death, sexuality and areas of the psyche usually reserved for examination by the professionals, Paul and Lise live in a Paris of their own making, one completely isolated from reality as we know it. A small yet perfectly formed novel(ella?) this is French melodrama and mauvaise foi at its very juiciest. Although those not familiar with this confuddling concept may leave feeling more than a little confused, the danger, tragedy and taboo Cocteau juggles with in this book of ideas makes this less of a chore and more of an incredibly satisfying education. Cocteau’s own abstract sketches that illustrate the novella perfectly reflect the dream/nightmare like scenario within, allowing us a shadow of the action and allowing our brain to do the rest. If that-website-that-can-not-necessarily-be-believed is anything to go by, Jean Cocteau wrote the book during a week of drug withdrawal. Given the knife-edge tension in this tale I find that easy to believe.
This translation by Rosamond Lehmann is excellent and appears to be pitch-perfect in its interpretation of Cocteau’s poetic and utterly surreal voice…but I still should read it in French one day. This is also proof, ladies and gents, that I don’t (as I’d begun to fear) necessarily need a mega-plot to enjoy a book. Hurrah!