cover image Genet: A Biography

Genet: A Biography

Edmund White. Alfred A. Knopf, $35 (728pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57171-3

In this massive biography White gets well inside the skin of the great French writer widely known for his sensational novels, Our Lady of the Flowers and A Thief's Journal (both written in the 1940s but not published in the U.S. until two decades later), and his plays, The Maids and The Blacks . White is a master at illuminating the connections between Genet's (1910-1986) life and creative output; as a novelist himself, White ( The Beautiful Room Is Empty ) offers brilliant insight into the way experience is transformed into art. His most vivid passages fill in crucial blanks often left by literary critics in search of the source and ultimate meaning of a writer's contributions. Also valuable is White's painstaking delineation of Genet's often unpopular political involvements--he supported the Black Panthers and later in his career the Palestinians--as well as his uneasy position among French intellectuals of the postwar period. White's frank and stylish account of Genet's erotic life is not for the squeamishly heterosexual, as those familiar with Genet's works (or White's for that matter) will know, for rarely have a writer's life and work been so erotically connected as Genet's. In a biography of this length, there are inevitably moments when the biographer's concentration appears to flag and events pile up with little analysis. Yet among the pleasures here is that White's prose largely matches the seductive allure of his subject's. Photos. (Oct.)