Jean Cayrol Spire Pitou - Essay

Spire Pitou

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 1976 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 50, No. 4, Autumn, 1976.