World More or Less

Jean Rouaud, Author, Barbara Wright, Translator
Jean Rouaud, Author, Barbara Wright, Translator Arcade Publishing $22.95 (192p) ISBN 978-1-55970-405-2
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
Having re-created the WWI generation of his grandfather in the Prix Goncourt-winning Fields of Glory, and having told his father's poignant story in Of Illustrious Men, Rouaud now turns to his own coming-of-age in this sequel, with decidedly less success. For his portrait of the artist, Rouaud returns to two distinct moments: his eight-year internment at the Saint-Cosmes all-boys boarding school, and his student years during the late 1960s. As a boy, his narrator is a myopic loner, mourning his dead grandfather and father, forced to endure cruel teachers (one paper is returned marked up in red corrections like ""blood flowing on the back of an animal pierced by banderillas""). Still obsessed at 18 with his idol, Rimbaud, our narrator is overjoyed to rediscover his subversive boarding-school buddy, Gyf, who now wears cool glasses and manages to attract beautiful girls. But Rouaud fails to put his youth into context. Despite the novel's pervasive, thinly ironized nostalgia, he omits the background detail about his family that so enriched his previous novels. Few readers who come to this work cold will be seduced by Rouaud's glib prose, which is unflatteringly translated by Wright and littered with Rimbaudian mock jargon, pretentious allusions (""after Cerberus has put out his nightlight""; ""nothing you can do to stem the Tethys of tears"") and second-person passages that seem, more than anything else, a sign of their author's self-absorption. (Mar.)
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