Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

As is clear from The Inquisitory, Robert Pinget is not the kind of novelist who interlards his narrative with didactic commentary or burdens it with symbols and allegory. In one respect, however, he is a very old-fashioned novelist with a truly conventional appeal: The careful depiction of life in his chosen microcosm, the region around Sirancy and Agapa, makes The Inquisitory a kind of novel of manners. It is a portrait of French life in the tradition of Honore de Balzac and Marcel Proust, an art that builds on the amassing of realistic detail. Yet whereas the earlier novelists used their social settings as a backdrop for the development of powerful characters such as Vautrin and Swann, for Pinget the backdrop is all. Although some of his other novels are set in the same locale, they are not all realistic in technique.

The Inquisitory makes occasional sly use of names. The American ladies’ man, for example, is called Douglas Hotcock, and the local bishop is Monseigneur Bougecroupe, or “Budgebottom.” The place-names are sometimes coarsely humorous, and one of the Sirancy priests tries to provide euphemistic etymologies for them. This kind of wordplay is a familiar device of fiction, and it lightens a stream of narrative that often amounts to little more than a listing of the common facts of mundane reality.

Pinget’s refusal to cast his social history of Sirancy and Agapa in a conventional novel form is in itself a statement of theme and purpose: to describe a world in which events do not reveal patterns of plot and meaning. The old man insists that life unfolds as it does, and one should accept it and not try to draw conclusions. For him, life’s only purpose is to be lived. Life may be inscrutable, even meaningless, but with luck, it can be survived, and often it can be enjoyed. His cheerful anticipation of what the next day always brings affords the only moral to be found in The Inquisitory.