And in this world of orphans and illness, maintained by servants paid for by benefactors (initially the doctor and Gerard's Uncle) Paul and Elisabeth play The Game, a game of sibling rivalry mingled with unconsummated incestuous desires, a game into which they draw Gerard and later Angela, an orphan who is the spitting image of Dargelos. They mature physically and adult sexuality begin to distort the rules of the Game, but they never grow up mentally and the Play still explodes with childish tantrums.
Inevitably this must lead to tragedy.
This is a book about power and the way in which it warps human behaviour. The enclosed world in which the Game operates reminded me of the arcane world of Ritual in Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy. It was interesting, too, how Cocteau explored child sexuality from schoolboy crush to adolescent passion.
The prose reminds me a little of William Burroughs (although Cocteau's narrative is far more linear than those in, eg The Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine or The Wild Boys. Cocteau is not afraid to write poetic images into prose and there are moments of lyrical beauty although these moments always threaten to purple and overblow. Judge for yourself:
- "Lord of space and time, dweller in the twilit fringes between light and darkness, fisher in the confluent pools of truth and fantasy," (p 15)
- "the atmosphere of perpetually impending storm which was the breath of life to both of them." (p 35)
- "this puppet in the place of a live person." (p 38)
- "Beyond the boundaries of the ordinary world of lives and houses, unguessed, undreamed of in their common-sense philosophy, lies the vast realm of the improbably: a world too disordered, so it would seem, to hold together for a fortnight, let alone for several years. And yet these lives, these houses continue to maintain a precarious equilibrium in defiance of all laws of man and nature. All the same, persons who base their calculations on the inexorable pressure of the force of circumstance assume, correctly, that such lives are doomed. The world owes its enchantment to these curious creatures and their fancies; but its multiple complicity rejects them. Thistledown spirits, tragic, heartrending in their evanescence, they must go blowing headlong to perdition. And yet, all started harmlessly, in childish games and laughter ..." (p 61)
In many ways this is a surrealist version of the world I am constructing for my forthcoming thriller The Garage.
An very short but extraordinarily complex and surrealist novel. I need to think about it hard! October 2016; 135 pages