The Death of Napoleon

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Simon Leys is the pseudonym of sinologist and art historian Pierre Ryckmans. The novel was originally published in French as LA MORT DE NAPOLEON (1986). The translation was exquisitely done by Patricia Clancy and the author. In Leys’ touching tale, Napoleon does not serve out the remaining years of his life on the island of St. Helena. Through the efforts of a Bonapartist group, a double assumes the place of the real Napoleon on St. Helena, allowing Napoleon to escape. His mysterious supporters give him the name of Eugene Lenormand and put him on a ship that is bound for Bordeaux. According to the secret plot, Napoleon is to meet at Bordeaux with those who wish that he return to power, but the ship’s course is altered and it heads for Antwerp, therefore destroying all hope of the plot succeeding. Napoleon is now left to fend for himself, since there will be no one in Antwerp to give him further instructions.

Leys presents the reader with a Napoleon who is not well and without money. The question becomes: Will this military genius be able to survive in a world where he is not the Napoleon who was an emperor but merely an aging man? Suspense builds as the man known as Eugene Lenormand travels across Belgium, even taking a guided tour of the battlefield of Waterloo. The amputee guide speaks of troop movements that seem incorrect, leading one to believe that the guide most likely did not take part in the battle. Napoleon finally arrives in Paris after...

(The entire section is 451 words.)