(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Inquisitory has no beginning, middle, or end. It does not take a group of characters and lead them through a series of complications to a resolution of any kind. Instead, the entire novel is a series of questions and answers that begins abruptly, develops no patterns of theme or conflict, and ends inconclusively. No authorial commentary is provided to establish a context, and there is no punctuation except for an occasional comma in the longer answers. After a few pages, the reader becomes aware that the interrogator is an officer of the law who is questioning an old man about the disappearance of a servant who, like the old man, had been employed at Chateau de Broy, the estate of two unnamed “gentlemen.” The fate of the servant, however, is soon lost in the welter of wide-ranging questions and detailed answers. Beyond this bit of abortive plot—little more than the device for setting the interrogation in motion—the reader is constantly frustrated in his attempts to find a thread of narrative to follow in the labyrinth of text. Furthermore, the old man is deaf, and the questions are apparently written out for him and transcribed by a recorder.

The title of the novel is itself unusual. The French word inquisitoire is apparently a neologism, translated by the obsolete English word “inquisitory”—in effect, another neologism. The intensity of the protracted interrogation is perhaps best suggested by translating inquisitoire as “grilling” or “third degree.”

Despite the plotlessness of the old man’s rambling testimony, however, the overwhelming accumulation of detail—page after page of street layouts, room furnishings, and so forth—begins to produce its own effect, especially as the foibles and personal entanglements of various local figures are quickly sketched. It is as if a gifted dramatist had created an enormous set, crowded with the minutiae of daily life, and put an endless sequence of walk-ons in the background, while the audience waits restively for a protagonist who never appears. Gradually, the audience shifts its attention to the elaborate scene painting and the petty minidramas of the walk-ons.

Although the official’s ostensible purpose in the interrogation is to investigate the servant’s disappearance, he reveals a salacious preoccupation with the habits of the two gentlemen at the Chateau de Broy. The two men are apparently homosexuals—although their servant balks at discussing this fact—and their bohemian soirees...

(The entire section is 1023 words.)