cover image The Georgics

The Georgics

Claude Simon. Calder Publications, $29.95 (322pp) ISBN 978-0-7145-4089-4

As Simon's experimental anti-war novel begins, a prominent Jacobin and French general, identified only as ``L.S.M.,'' writes home from the front, giving the caretaker of his estate elaborate instructions on how to tend to hedges and horses. This aristocrat cuts a rather ridiculous figure, but that is the point: war turns soldiers into pawns. Patriotism, God, revolution, ideals--all stand mocked before the senseless destruction and evil of state-sanctioned mass murder. Simon intercuts epochs and wars; he makes History a chief character, personified as a fiendish trickster. War's random brutality is viewed from the trenches--we see the Spanish Civil War through the eyes of a young English writer ostensibly modeled on George Orwell; leapfrogging to the French rout of 1940, Simon, who was himself captured by the Germans, thrusts the reader into the midst of blunders and carnage. This difficult novel, for which Simon won the 1985 Nobel Prize for Literature, is encumbered by extremely long and complex sentences, endless paragraphs and a hyper-associative style. A slashing satire on the modern condition, it lets one see the violence and depredation of war as extensions of ``peacetime.'' (Sept.)