Setting: 1920s, Paris
Rated : 7 Stars
I am going to bring a great deal of criticism on myself.
–Raymond Radiguet - The devil in the flesh - c.1923, 2010 - pg.9
translated by Christopher Moncrieff
Although the 1930’s mini challenge has come to an end, when I spotted this book at work I thought it might fit, and wanted to read more books of that time. Of course then I read the details and discovered that it was actually written earlier than that… Oh well :)
The devil in the flesh created quite a bit of a scandal when it was published, semi-autobiographical, the author wrote it from the age of sixteen to eighteen, after his own affair with a married woman. And that, my dears, is the central theme to this book. In fact, it is the end all and the be all of everything in this book. Our 15/16 year old narrator’s affair with a married woman. And I found that incredibly off-putting.
Plus he is a selfish little shit.
Typical teenager I suppose, although this was written before that term was used, and in the note at the back the translator goes to great lengths in pointing out just how ahead of his time Radiguet was in this idea of the selfish teen, and indeed the modern idea of the self as being more important that society. As such, as an examination of the selfishness and downright ignorance of an individual this book really really works. Our narrator, whom the blurb calls Francois, but I don’t remember him being named in the book, is an ass. But a thoroughly believable and real character. Totally believable, someone you would want to avoid.
And the writing, though sparse, is perfect. But at the same time I just can’t rave about this book. It strikes me as one of those books that white literary men like, you know, it tells the tale of a young man, a boy really, and his view. The whole world is seen through his eyes, no one else matters, or even really figures as a character. Even his lover, Marthe isn’t a person. She is merely another part of the world that the narrator sees, uses and abuses. His viewpoint is so self-centred that he sets out to hurt his so-called love just to prove that she really loves him. That isn’t love, it is selfishness and obsession. It is the Twilight of love. And I just can’t stand that level of preciousness and drama. It makes me want to slap him. And when you add in the fact that he is grateful for World War I because it means that Marthe’s husband is away- I just couldn’t stand him.
And as for the whole issue of a 15 year old having a sexual relationship with an older woman, there is something very sordid and disturbing about it all.