Cayrol, Jean 1911–
Cayrol, a French novelist, poet, essayist, and screenwriter, was an early proponent of the New Novel. His fiction and poetry are dominated by his experiences in a German prison camp, and his heroes are typically Lazarus figures who must readjust to life after a spiritual death. A Christian perspective of redemptive suffering pervades his work.
In the novels of Jean Cayrol someone speaks, but as Roland Barthes has already argued it is impossible to say exactly who. The Cayrolian voice hides as much as it reveals its source; it is never transparent. It works against the speaker who desires to affirm his presence by speaking. The Cayrolian figure may attempt, like Gaspard of Les Corps Etrangers, to remember his past and relate it accurately and completely in order to claim he is present as an identity at the source of his voice, outside and prior to it; but he is never successful. (p. 789)
The Cayrolian voice is a voice without origin, a voice whose source is in no fully constituted subject and which, therefore, cannot be conclusively identified. It is incorrect, perhaps, even to call it a voice because it has no specific origin and is never unique. Each voice is plural, not a voice at all but multiple, with multiple origins. The invasion of each voice by other voices indicates that it would be impossible to give any voice a sense or direction and it is in this way that the Cayrolian voice constitutes a text (a fundamental characteristic of any text being this absence of a definite source, the absence of any subject hors texte governing its sense). A text demands the absence or death of the subject in order to signify—it could be considered precisely as a voice (voices) without origin.
It can be seen already, therefore,...
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An author of poems, essays and novels sufficient in number and quality to establish him as a man of letters, Cayrol isn't above playing Scheherazade and writing a suspense tale [Kakemono Hôtel]. He is a novelist of place, in love with the dank, misty, rainy Normandy coast which Flaubert and De Maupassant also loved, and fascinated by the tragedy of people who stumble from mischance to mischance in following their illusions….
Judged by its plot and its improbabilities, Kakemono Hôtel is closer to Poe than to Flaubert or Maupassant. But the atmosphere Cayrol creates is the work of a delicate observer grounded in the methods of the realistic school, and he writes with a simplicity Poe would have rejected. Kakemono Hôtel is an altogether "happy" addition to the genre of the suspense novel. (pp. 269-70)
James Walt, in Books Abroad (copyright 1975 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 49, No. 2, Spring, 1975.
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Devotees of Jean Cayrol's poetry and fiction will be surprised to find that his latest novel rejects completely the surrealistic manner he has employed until now with such constant success. For Histoire d'une maison might be construed as an effort to demonstrate once and for all that surrealistic writers can and may employ the more traditional forms of composition with ease and competence. The first section of the narrative is presented directly by the author, or anonymous narrator, exactly as Balzac or Zola might have developed a tale of avarice or alcoholism; the second part turns to the epistolary format used by Rousseau in La nouvelle Héloïse; the fourth section exploits the diary or journal type of presentation favored by Defoe.
These variations in technique heighten the abruptly changing tempo and the kaleidoscopic effect the author wishes to achieve so that the unsettled nature of his characters' lives may be underlined and made to match the uncertain pre-World War II period in which they live—and even dare to hope. Yet the deft and dreadful irony that Cayrol evolves in his work is still present….
This saga of frustration, betrayal and death offers a plenitude of ludicrous and dreadful scenes, but none of these is as disquieting as the calm conviction with which the novelist relates his story. (p. 825)
Spire Pitou, in Books Abroad (copyright...
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