cover image The Desert World

The Desert World

Pierre Jean Jouve. Marlboro Press, $28 (124pp) ISBN 978-0-8101-6018-7

Jouve (1887-1976), a leading poet of the French Resistance, was also a novelist and essayist whose fiction is no longer read by the general public in France. Yet, as this dazzling novel, originally published in 1927, reveals, he was a daring modernist whose work incorporates multiple perspectives, shifting narrative voices and the fantasies of the unconscious. The ""desert"" of the title refers to the characters' spiritual emptiness on the eve of WWI. Set mainly in Geneva and the magnificent Swiss Alps, the story involves a love triangle among Jacques de Todi, guilt-ridden homosexual son of a stern Swiss pastor; Baladine Nikolaievna, magnetic Russian-born Genevan bank manager who induces Jacques to renounce his family and teaching career to pursue fame as a painter; and Luc Pascal, Jacques' Parisian friend, who's a feckless poet and novelist (and in many ways Jouve's alter ego). Baladine and Jacques live together in an almost chaste marriage, but he drowns himself after discovering her love affair with Luc. The story jumps to the early 1920s, when Luc and Baladine (now the mother of Jacques' child) meet again and marry, but their short-lived relationship is poisoned by the emotional baggage each carries. Mapping the fields of attraction and repulsion that pulse between his characters, Jouve writes with implacable severity. His insight, a fierce attention paid to all the grottoes of the psyche, seems almost to be an endlessly inventive act of aggression. (Oct.)