cover image Watteau in Venice

Watteau in Venice

Philippe Sollers. Scribner Book Company, $22 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-684-19451-6

Cloak-and-dagger intrigue behind the scenes of the international art trade spawns acerbic ruminations on culture in this witty first-person narrative. In present-day Venice, a cynical French writer awaits the sale of a stolen Watteau masterpiece, La Fete `a Venise, whose transfer between two yachts he is to supervise. As he exchanges pseudonymous faxes with his confederates across the globe, he swims, sunbathes and makes love with Luz, an astrophysics student from L.A., and ponders the shadowy economy he serves. Invoking a pantheon of artists, writers and thinkers from before Watteau's time to the present century-most prominently, Stendhal, Artaud, Spinoza, Monet and Cezanne-French novelist Sollers (Event) fashions a sweeping collage of factual and imaginary quotation and dialogue that supports his narrator's self-justifying philosophy. Frequent interruptions questioning the novel's credibility punctuate an already fitful and somewhat self-indulgent narrative. But humor tempers the rarified tone and suggests that beneath the cynicism beats a romantic's heart. (Aug.)