cover image The Criminal Child and Other Essays

The Criminal Child and Other Essays

Jean Genet, trans. from the French by Charlotte Mandell and Jeffrey Zuckerman. New York Review of Books Classics, $15.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-68137-361-4

An homage to a tightrope walker, Jean Cocteau’s elegant prose, and the “breathable” paintings of Leonor Fini that evoke “a swamp smell” are just a few of the subjects broached in this slim but topically vast collection from the late French novelist and playwright Genet (1910–1986). The entries are united by Genet’s signature probing, at times obscure, prose and his fascination with morality, misfits, and art. “The Criminal Child,” originally intended for radio broadcast, was censored because of Genet’s sympathy for the titular subject, with whom he identifies—having been incarcerated himself—and celebrates as a rebellious and beautiful outlaw resisting the powerful. Genet’s attraction to society’s marginal inhabitants continues throughout each of the following essays. In Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture he sees “an art of high-class tramps.” In “Fragments,” Genet reflects on how homosexuality has exiled him from conventional morality. Throughout, Genet is a deft, sensual, and outrageous critic—in regards to theater, he proclaims, “A performance that does not act on my soul is vain.” Fans will be pleased with this gathering of Genet’s inimitable reflections on art, life, and his muses. (Dec.)