Michel Tournier

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Michel Tournier 1924–

French novelist, short story writer, and essayist.

Tournier's writing reflects his fascination with mythic structure and symbolism. Friday, which won the Prix du Roman from the Académie Française, is a twentieth-century retelling of Robinson Crusoe in which Tournier uses Freudian and Jungian theory along with anthropology to examine the isolation of individuals in modern society. In Tournier's novel The Erl-King, a French soldier imagines that his personal destiny corresponds to the evolution of the Nazi regime. His recent novel Gemini exemplifies the philosophically speculative nature of his fiction.

(See also CLC, Vol. 6; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 3; and Something about the Author, Vol. 23.)

Thomas J. Fleming

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A rewrite of "Robinson Crusoe?" By a Frenchman, no less? The two ideas are a little staggering at first. Then, before you know what is happening, you are involved in a fascinating, unusual novel [Friday (Vendredi)], reading with amazement page after page of a story that produced nothing but yawns among my schoolmates, when we plowed through the original by ye olde trusty moralist, Daniel Defoe….

Years ago, George Sherburn of Harvard, commenting on Defoe's middle-class masterpiece, remarked, "A modern novelist would focus on the horrors of isolation, the loneliness of Crusoe's island; for Defoe these things hardly existed: his mind as always was on the God-given power of sinful man to win through—and on the human ingenuity that embellishes the effort." This bit of academic prescience does sum up part of what Tournier has done with his Crusoe. But it is only a very small part. In this slim volume, he has attempted nothing less than an exploration of the soul of modern man.

In the beginning of this retelling, the horrors of isolation drive Crusoe to the brink of madness; he becomes an almost primeval creature, wallowing mindlessly in the slimy marshes of his island. Then he gets a grip on himself, begins to read his Bible, creates order in his soul, and starts to civilize his unruly tropic land. He turns the marshes into rice paddies, raises acres of grain, organizes herds of goats.

Meanwhile, there is something profound happening within him, the birth of a new man, a new soul, mysteriously linked to the island, which he names Speranza….

Then comes Friday, rescued in much the same way as the native in Defoe's story. But what a totally different impact the black man has on this Crusoe! The innocent child of nature gradually infuriates the civilized white man. He makes Crusoe feel the arid weight of his daily labor, the futility of his painstaking conquest of Speranza….

[Finally] Crusoe no longer cares. He accepts Friday's way of life, and in long dreaming hours devotes himself to exploring the new man and the new vision which begins to flower ever more strongly within him…. The ending is not as convincing as the rest of the book, but it is at least as surprising.

Along the way, Tournier dips into Crusoe's mind—directly, and through a journal the castaway keeps. Again and again, he finds fresh and original ways of viewing primary experiences such as time and work and religious faith, the relationship of men to animals and trees and their own shadowy selves, to civilization and the essential earth.

The telling is intensely French. The focus is on thinking, and thinking about feeling. There is little or no attempt to build up massive amounts of believable detail or anecdote. But it works, because the framework of the classic makes this abracadabra of believability convincing.

Thomas J. Fleming, "A New Man and a New Vision,"...

(This entire section contains 506 words.)

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in The New York Times Book Review (© 1969 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 13, 1969, p. 47.


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Le Vent Paraclet—which is about Michel Tournier's life, his books, his esthetic ideas, and his quarrels with French institutions, mankind, history, and the cosmos—is a book that raises problems. The most important is that of how seriously it is to be taken, given its many visible inconsistencies and the far-fetched quality of some of its assertions. Though these essays provide information about his novels, they cannot be said to be seamless interpretations of those texts. Tournier tries to place them within a certain esthetic field, to suggest in part what he intended them to do, and to authorize others to offer their interpretations of them. He does the last by asserting that creative works get away from their author's control in order to control him; such an inversion is accompanied by another through which Tournier incorporates aspects of other men's writing in order to put them to better, fuller use in his own. One gathers that if Tournier can manipulate the works of other authors as he says he has done and feel justified in having done so, then a critic, provided he has some weight of evidence, can manipulate Tournier in a like way.

Manipulation may be the wrong word, however, for what may be happening may be nothing more than an examination of ramifications or, in terms of a hoarier critical vocabulary, a search for comparisons and contrasts which, extending in order to compare, produce unexpected revelations. What they reveal may turn out to be a situated body of material (a novel by Tournier) which, because of its situation, allows and may even necessitate interpretative statements of an order quite different from that contained in the author's retrospective discourse. Tournier may know, because he remembers it, what he intended at the outset of one of his writings; he may be unable, precisely because he is remembering the intention, to assess the full range of what it has ultimately produced. If that is so, his books no longer belong to him; they have become his readers'.

Much of what is said in this book is meant to be openly provocative when it is not merely playful…. (pp. 918-19)

Though it is always interesting to read, Le Vent Paraclet is all too frequently banal. Tournier does not always address himself to matters a reader might have expected to find under discussion here. Some of his more ambitious speculations are, in the most generous assessment, examples of thoughts which have not yet thought themselves fully out. One senses this while reading his meteorological speculations, where he does not treat the most important questions because, one suspects, he does not see them….

I am trying to suggest that any reader of Tournier's novels will feel compelled to read and meditate about this book; that reader may find that he also has to try to put together from Le Vent Paraclet the book that Tournier intended but did not have the self-discipline or understanding to write. For what is lacking in this curious mélange is a convincing enabling base for its most flamboyant assertions. They reveal themselves as arbitrary, at times dangerously so because of their appeal; and they become questionable because, rather than being closely argued and structured in order to persuade, they are proclaimed as a series of clauses in a manifesto promising the redemption of Michel Tournier and his incorporation into the cosmos. Some readers may believe that a temperament which articulates its learning, leanings and longings in this manner uncomfortably recalls others in this century whose programs have led to entirely too much waste and devastation. (p. 919)

Joseph H. McMahon, "Creative Works: 'Le vent paraclet'," in The French Review (copyright 1978 by the American Association of Teachers of French), Vol. 51, No. 6, May, 1978, pp. 918-19.

Barbara Wright

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I find some of [the short stories in Le Coq de bruyère] disturbing, just as I found Michel Tournier's magnificent novel The Erl-King disturbing, and for the same reasons. In The Erl-King, M Tournier's understanding of the spirit of the Teutonic powers of evil underlying the actions and "philosophy" of the Nazis was so complete that it almost seemed legitimate to assume that he felt some obscure complicity with them. Some of the stories in Le Coq de bruyère … are orientated towards the same dark, saturnine forces—and again, with charm and persuasiveness.

"La jeune fille et la mort" is one of the longer stories. Death has always acted as a magnet for Mélanie, ever since she was a "docile, intelligent, hard-working" little schoolgirl. Death, and also sadism and torture, for Mélanie was born bored—bored by everything in life. The way M Tournier treats with such calm, and apparent approval, his protagonist's concept of all life being boring may perhaps disturb others, too….

In "Le Nain rouge", a dwarf takes his revenge on nature in many ways, urged on by his fantasy of being the governor of a women's concentration camp. In the end, however, he finds a less terrible fulfilment as a circus clown: one Christmas Eve he hires the whole circus and gives all the seats, free, to children from schools, reformatories and orphanages, "none of whom was a single centimetre taller than he".

Children play a large part in these stories, some of which were actually written for them…. There are also free fantasias on fairy stories and myths: Tom Thumb trying to run away from his narrow bourgeois home is good, and M Tournier's new version of the story of Adam and Eve is better still, and full of light-hearted humour….

M Tournier has a wide range of subjects, and of course he writes extremely well—but he still frightens me.

Barbara Wright, "Charmingly Unpleasant," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1978; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3993, October 13, 1978, p. 1182.


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Narrated with subtle variations of tone, the fourteen short stories [in Le Coq de bruyère] are modern parables and fairy tales, a genre natural to Tournier's art, rich in symbols and images. Lucid and realistic in the midst of fantasy, the stories are told from the point of view of the hero, generally a child, an adolescent or an underdog, who encounters a series of dramatic adventures. As in the traditional fairy tale, external events and roles achieve a greater relevancy than their immediate signification in the unfolding of the particular story. Many of the tales which show the protagonist leaving behind a secure and familiar way of life and stepping into a different age—adolescence, adulthood or senescence—may be interpreted as initiations. The development and outcome of the hero's confrontations, however shocking they may be, provide for the reader an aid to find himself, integrate the discordant aspects of his personality and proceed toward the laborious, and impoverished, path of maturity.

Though their quest is not a chivalrous one, the protagonists long for the renewal of a pre-Christian culture. Along with the regret for a golden age, nostalgia for childhood is keenly felt. Exiled into maturity and urbanism, the characters dream of rediscovering the purity, intensity and acuity of a child's experiences. An Orphic vision of the world prevails in Tournier's work, which adds a mystical and lyrical dimension to the tales. (p. 250)

Tournier's tales in their symbolic significance are more convincing than realistic fiction. They represent a poetic rendering of his relationship to the world. Concretizing arcane reality through delusion or enchantment, Tournier is a magician who gives us the reassurance that there is a secret garden next to our backyard, that there is another world behind the mirror and that there is a small island in the Pacific Ocean where we lived happily once upon a time. (p. 251)

Danièle McDowell, "French: 'Le coq de bruyere'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1979 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 53, No. 2, Spring, 1979, pp. 250-51.


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The decision to bring [together the various texts selected for Le Coq de bruyère] was a seriously mistaken one; linked together as a book, they raise a very grave issue: does Michel Tournier himself have the conceptual coherence to convince a reader that the world has points of cohesion and interlinkings which bind its disparate phenomena into a perceptible whole? And one is tempted to reply that Tournier, despite his great gifts and some admirable and durable achievements, is moving closer and closer towards turning his mind into a fun-house where he manipulates those jets of air which amuse some and scandalize others and which, unfortunately, are not to be taken very seriously.

Joseph H. McMahon, "Textbooks and Methodology: 'Le coq de bruyère'," in The French Review (copyright 1979 by the American Association of Teachers of French), Vol. 52, No. 5, April, 1979, p. 801.

John Sturrock

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The twelve casual and surprising verses in St Matthew's Gospel which tell the story of the Magi have grown into nearly three hundred pages in Michel Tournier's spectacularly free retelling of it [Gaspard, Melchior & Balthazar]. In the biblical version, and in the vast iconography that is descended from it, the Three Wise Men travel as one, inseparably bound on a common mission. In Tournier's version they become enduringly distinct from one another, assorted victims of fate with very different hopes of what may happen to them in Bethlehem. Each king is a real or metaphorical exile from his country and has his mind fixed more on the distressing past than on the open future. Each in his way finds an answer to his deepest needs in the Christian promise of the Nativity.

As a novelist Tournier's forte has been just such retellings of old legends asking for renewal. His belief about myths is that we need them, that they are marks of our humanity and that they are by their nature subversive, being invitations to deny the rightness of any existing order, social, philosophical or ethical.

So it is that the encounter of Gaspard, Melchior and Balthazar with the infant Jesus authorizes a revolution in their lives….

In these three episodes, or case-histories, Tournier has given us his reasons for esteeming the Christian scheme on social, aesthetic and political grounds. But he does not stop there: there are more obviously spiritual grounds too. To the stories of the three Magi he has added a fourth story, of another traveller from the East, Prince Taor of Mangalore, taken, he says, from a Russian Orthodox source. Taor's story is the longest and most captivatingly strange of all in this book….

Gaspard, Melchior & Balthazar is an anthology more than a novel; the stories which it contains support but do not require one another. Tournier is now a very forthright moralist and sees strengths perhaps in so offhandedly loose a construction, whose effect is certainly one of dramatic convergence on the Nativity and the symmetrical radiation of Christian ideas. This is no pietistic Christmas story but a work of substance and variety—playfully circumstantial in some parts, memorably symbolic in others. Tournier's imagination runs equally to the sublime and the macabre: he has no rival among French novelists of his generation for writing books that are at once vivid and intellectually provocative.

John Sturrock, "We Four Kings …," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1981; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4063, February 13, 1981, p. 158.

The New Yorker

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[In Gemini] Jean and Paul are twins who grow up to be perfect opposites in mind and manner. Paul believes that the symbiosis they enjoyed as infants … is a paradise they should live in forever, while Jean is tormented by the way everyone mistakes each of them for the other, and he decides to run away from his brother. Most of the novel features Paul's pursuit of Jean around the world, through places that support his theory that mankind has an innate love of mirror images (Venice reflected in its canals; Japan's islands encapsulated in its gardens; Berlin split in two). But before the flight and pursuit begin another narrator is given the floor: the twins' eccentric uncle, the manager of a garbage dump and a homosexual dandy, who delivers orations about the dump as "negative image" of society and about his own narcissistic tastes. Narcissism, in fact, is the novel's undoing; the author reduces his characters to mouthpieces, and so loses any reader who does not share his peculiar views.

"Fiction: 'Gemini'," in The New Yorker (© 1981 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. LVII, No. 25, August 10, 1981, p. 106.

Salman Rushdie

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On the enormous loom of "Gemini," Tournier weaves banalities into wonders: rubbish dumps, a tapeworm, Venetian honeymoons, even the weather are here transmuted into the stuff of marvels.

"Gemini" is about a pair of identical twins, collectively known as Jean-Paul. Saying this, however, is a bit like saying that "Ulysses" is about a man walking around Dublin, because Tournier uses the theme of twinship to explore a near infinity of dualities. In addition to playing with such traditional oppositions as heterosexuality and homosexuality, city and countryside, heaven and hell, Tournier elaborates ingeniously on the profound opposition of chronology and meteorology—the fixed, regulated march of the hours on the one hand and the wild, unpredictable fluctuation of the seasons on the other. And, in a passage of startling metaphysical originality, one of the characters says that "Christ has to be superseded"—not, in Manichaean terms, by Satan, but by the all-encompassing Spirit, the Holy Ghost.

Clearly, "Gemini" is not light reading; and yet, such is the electricity of Tournier's intelligence that for most of this mammoth book the reader is mesmerized by the daring of the conception and the audacity with which the author carries it off. The magic wanes in the last third of the novel, but by then the momentum that has been built up by this unique text is strong enough to sweep us to the superbly right finale. (p. 12)

There is no doubt that "Gemini" … is a book of rare intelligence, originality and that intensity of sight of which Aragon was also a master. Tournier and Aragon are far from being twins, however: "Gemini" is a novel impregnated with theology, after all, and Aragon's view of God was that he was "a disgusting and vulgar idea."

But then again, as this novel amply demonstrates, Michel Tournier can take just about any idea, no matter how vulgar or disgusting, and give it meaning. (p. 32)

Salman Rushdie, "The Stuff of Marvels," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1981 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 4, 1981, pp. 12, 31-2.

John Weightman

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[Gemini] is a phenomenological fantasy on the grand scale, since it combines the cosmos, the weather and a great variety of landscapes with a rich commentary on the nature of the human consciousness, particularly in its sexual aspect. The French title is Les Météores, a term which, properly speaking, denotes not only shooting or falling stars but all meterological phenomena, and the translation, Gemini, is to be explained by the fact that a basic theme is the Castor and Pollux myth, at least in Tournier's interpretation of true twinship as a closed duality, complete in itself and cosmically significant.

The narrative, such as it is, runs from 1937 to the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. It concerns a prosperous French bourgeois family established in Britanny, which produces three sports or 'monsters,' as respectable families occasionally do: a homosexual uncle, Alexandre, and his nephews, two absolutely identical twins, Paul and Jean, whom only their mother, not their father, can tell apart.

The story is told sometimes by an anonymous narrator, for long periods by Alexandre and, in the last part after Alexandre's death, mainly by Paul. Its various episodes about pre-war life, the Occupation and the Cold War may intersect, but they often have no logical connection with each other, except that they are all contained within the universal framework of wind, weather and metaphysical inklings, and support a continuous meditation on the nature of being.

However, after reading the book twice, I doubt whether it forms an artistic whole; although passages of brilliant writing may occur at any point, the story of Alexandre is by far the most compelling part, and its link-up with the twinship theme is debatable….

It was already clear from 'Vendredi' and 'The Erl King' that Tournier has an idiosyncratic view of sex, and Alexandre is an unusual and memorable invention, if indeed he has been invented. He is an aggressive homosexual racialist….

Alexandre represents the open-endedness of rampant, anti-feminist virility, the twins the closed circuit of perfect union, since they form a separate cell within society as incestuous, homosexual lovers with their own private language.

At first they have an ideal life on the sea-coast in Brittany, Narcissus embracing Narcissus in harmony with the wind and the waves. But since creation is flawed, Jean breaks the spell and goes off on his own to look for women. Paul follows his trail from France to Venice, Tunisia, Iceland, Canada, Japan and Berlin, and this global quest turns into a vivid phenomenological travelogue that might be extended indefinitely. It ends arbitarily when Paul is crippled while escaping from East Berlin through a tunnel under the Wall. It is not clear whether this is an echo, conscious or unconscious, of the cloacal motif in the first part. Paul never catches up with Jean but, lying on his bed in Brittany, he is again at one with 'the song of the world.'

It would be interesting to discuss the myriad other themes that are woven into the text: the wind as spirit or Holy Ghost, the sexual phenomenology of the Cross, the contrast between time and weather, the fascination of imbeciles both as God's doodles and perceivers of certain truths, etc. I must limit myself to saying that this extraordinary pot-pourri of a novel is a queer book in all senses of the word, since it contains no serious presentation of the male/female polarity on a par with the treatment of homosexaulity.

It is also, in places, a dotty book, if Tournier means us to take him quite seriously, and not with a large pinch of salt.

John Weightman, "Castor and Bollocks," in The Observer (reprinted by permission of The Observer Limited), October 4, 1981, p. 29.

Galen Strawson

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[Gemini reveals] Tournier's astonishing gift for the exact, comprehensive, and economical description of complicated processes and objects….

Tournier exploits his details ceaselessly and explicitly for their symbolic potentialities….

But Tournier also has problems with detail. Vendredi…. reads in places like a repository of more or less bizarre descriptive tours de force. included despite the requirements of narrative cogency. The attempts to tie them in do not convince. The same is true of Gemini. It is arguably too long by a third. There are ingenious things in the last 150 pages, as Paul, seeking to restore the "geminate cell," pursues Jean, who seeks to destroy it, round the world. But the dominant impression, quite apart from the uncomfortable guide-book facts and figures on Venice, Iceland and Japan, is of heterogeneous material resisting integration into the main body of the book, Tournier is a master of the massively ramified conceit, but the conceit concerning meteors … set afoot in the last third of Gemini is one of his least successful.

Like Vendredi, Gemini is a novel of ideas, in that it is a novel devoted primarily to the elaborate and divagatory mise en scène of a particular idea, to the triangulation, at once whimsical and meticulous, of a particular conceptual locality. The two books overlap in their concerns, and Gemini contains several references to Robinson Crusoe, the (pointedly non-eponymous) hero of Vendredi. The principal subject of Vendredi is solitude and, obliquely, the nature of our need for others, for human otherness. Gemini, constructed like Virginia Woolf's The Waves as an irregular cycle of inner discourses by the various characters, develops directly the theme of the Other; of our search and desire, especially in sexual relations, for sameness of difference in others.

But Gemini is a novel of ideas not only because it is fiction in the service of speculation, but also because ideas are themselves the true protagonists. They are so because the human protagonists live through ideas. Tournier's exact flights of fancy are not narratorial interventions; they are his characters' reflections upon their own and each other's lives. And the real drama of their lives lies not in what befalls them—though this is dramatic enough—but in their compulsive theorizing about what befalls them. Time and again Tournier italicizes a phrase like geminate intuition and sets one of his characters to develop a whole series of cross-stitched reflections out of it.

It is the elaboration of these series of reflections that Tournier shows his greatest skill…. Apparent absurdity turns out upon inspection to be functional in some respect, to have a point; disparate oddments are assembled into sense…. [Tournier's constructions] work—or almost always. He has the French love of paradox, but he is rare among Frenchmen in making his paradoxes fertile, training them up with care and erudition, animating their initial awkwardness with the logic of common sense, making them concrete in the events of his characters' lives….

Sameness and difference, attachment, separation and loss. Tournier offers no general survey of this vast area, but develops highly idiosyncratic positions—those of his characters—deep within it, where complicated insights jostle with sententious prejudices. The genre is doubtless not to everyone's taste, but Tournier at his best is master at it…. [Tournier's distinction] is the ability to draw ideas and abstractions out of the concrete and particular….

In so doing he attains at times to the epic; and in a unique fashion. He gives a sense that the realm of ideas is indeed a realm, a place with an objective geography; a geography of epic proportions, rich in fictional possibility; not a place that is created, but one that is already, there, to be visited and travelled, and in which what happens is not of one's own choosing.

Galen Strawson, "Piercing the Many-Coloured Cloak," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1981; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4098, October 16, 1981, p. 1192.

Alan Hollinghurst

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[Gemini] is the work of a mind expanding under the apparent beneficence of praise, performing with both an obligation to grandeur and a licence to self-indulgence. The grandeur is frequently impressive, the project kept up with remarkable stamina: but the self-indulgence, as well as weakening the structure, also undermines the confidence of the reader. Tournier is not a man to make a point once if he can make it a dozen times, or to use one word if he can use a thousand. Subjected to this immense performance of reiterative loquacity the reader increasingly responds with both 'I know …' and 'What, really, does it mean?'

The novel's meaning emerges from its study of twinship, Jean and Paul Surin are twins so identical that even their father cannot tell them apart; their physical similarity is coupled with an emotional and psychological identification, not of sympathetic reactions but of a shared geminate intuition—a phrase always printed … in italics.

Tournier's technique is to refract this geminate experience through the lives of others who are striving for its perfect reciprocity without the advantage of twinship. Jean and Paul are outsiders in the quality of their sensitivity and they celebrate themselves in a number of fantastic theories—for instance, about their congential innocence, all single children having murdered their notional twin in a prenatal enactment of Cain's fratricide. The novel's form, in which several different persons expound their theories, creates the semblance of a free expression of autonomous personalities, though we rapidly come to see that the novelistic circumstance is a mere pretext for an orchestration of ideas in which all the speakers … sound exactly the same. The novel is about identity without being about, or even much bothering with, the fictional machinery of character. Certainly, the people represent different intellectual positions, but subjected to the figurative counterpoint of the structure, none of them has access to our sympathies. The more the separation of Jean-Paul becomes the excuse of an abstract or pseudophilosophical argument, the less the dogmatic geminate intuition and the alienating light of a non-twin's reaction can register at a human level…. Whatever its fantasy, and however amusing (or unamusing) its laborious jokes, its aim is a serious and psychological one. But there is something unsettling and unconvincing in its mode of asseveration, for where Proust reveals his verities through a playing of the imagination on society, Tournier strives for his in a hypnotic reiteration of premises and positions unsupported by naturalism or even common sense: hence the wearisome feeling of familiarity with the ideas, and a lack of transmitted conviction in their meaning. The most rationally convincing parts are those closest to social history, the descriptions of the twins' father and his search for heroism in the Resistance; this realism is identified with the morality and normality of the world which the principal narrators leave behind them—the twins in their odyssey and Alexandre in his life among the great rubbish-tips of France and Morocco and his pursuit of boys. In the twins self-interest has an inevitable ambiguity, but Alexandre is a tyrannical egoist who, for Tournier, poses the problem of the interesting presentation of an irremediable bore. His twinship theories about same-sex love are as unimpressive as his eulogies of rubbish and Genet-like rejection of the 'heterosexual desert' are monotonous; his philosophy and sociology of homosexuality dissipate their wayward and essentially epigrammatic cleverness in Tournier's besetting overkill.

The novel works by massive rhymes and juxtapositions, and the later wanderings bring into play the metaphorical attributes of a multitude of places, sometimes …, no more than the sum of their clichés. It is here that character is least relevant and that the opportunism of a kind of symbolic picaresque dominates: its climax comes as Paul tunnels under the Berlin Wall to join Jean, and is badly injured. The new Berlin becomes a symbol of the new existence of Paul, his legs amputated, his own person split in two. His earlier physical ubiquity is replaced by free-ranging imagination and minute perception: in his immobility he contemplates life as if it were a miniature Zen garden in which only the eyes may walk. Like Cain and Romulus founding cities after their fratricides, Paul's eventual achievement of singleness is accompanied by the sublimation of his physical self into a new state of identification with the natural world, with the meteors—manifestations of a sublime logic independent of humanity. Whether all this means anything, or is simply an overblown caprice, may depend on the susceptibilities of the reader.

Alan Hollinghurst, "Jean-Paul: 'Gemini'" (appears here by permission of the London Review of Books and the author), in London Review of Books, November 19 to December 2, 1981, p. 19.

Stephen Smith

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Michel Tournier's Gaspard, Melchior & Balthazar [classified as a novel] … emerges rather as a series of short stories, linked, albeit tenuously, by their several relations to the iconography and legends of the Christian Nativity. The various adventures of Gaspard, Melchior, and Balthazar are recounted separately, leading up to the meeting of the three kings just prior to their encounter with Herod. Tournier handles the transitions with such technical perfection that the lack of any essential connection between the stories poses no problem and, in fact, passes virtually unnoticed. Each of the kings functions more as a medium for the author's ideas, or as an excuse for his (sometimes too-great) cleverness, than as a genuine multidimensional character….

The book's final, and longest, story is that of Taor, prince of Mangalore, who sets out ostensibly to find the recipe for pistachio Turkish delight … and ultimately becomes, at the end of his life, the first person to experience the Eucharist. Within the story of Taor's physical and spiritual journey, Tournier inserts another charming fable, that of the deification of Taor's favorite elephant, Yasmina, who becomes a goddess in the country of the baobab worshipers. A less felicitous digression is the gratuitous and spiteful detailing, full of double-entendres, of the social life of the Sodomites. Nevertheless, Taor's story is the most original and most satisfying section of the work. (p. 311)

Tournier has a natural talent for spinning tales. There is something here of The Thousand and One Nights, replete with life-and-death dramas, passionate and unrequited loves, devotion and sacrifice, vast struggles for power as perceived by the participants, all laced with heavy doses of local color (with a special penchant for details chosen to set the squeamish squirming) and of fantasy (Tournier has written several works for children, and here he is often evidently writing for the child in every adult)…. There are occasional deliberate distortions of reality, recognizable as such, answering the author's purposes of ironic commentary or whimsical fancy. The work partakes liberally of the long French tradition of irreverence toward the surface aspects of religion, and yet there is nothing but respect for the Incarnation as the central core of Christian teaching.

In short, the novel is clearly intended to please, as Tournier's many nudges of connivance to the reader make obvious, and on the level it has set for itself, it works very well indeed as an enjoyable diversion. (pp. 311-12)

Stephen Smith, "'Gaspard, Melchior & Balthazar'," in The French Review (copyright 1981 by the American Association of Teachers of French), Vol. 55, No. 2, December, 1981, pp. 311-12.

Angela Huth

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[Gemini] is an octopus of a book, and a pretentious octopus at that. Its tentacles thrash in many different directions, getting nowhere: it is unwieldy, slippery—the sort of book that makes you think either you or the author is suffering from some form of mental disorder.

The central 'love story' is of identical twins, a lustreless pair who seem something of a burden to their author once he has begun to grapple with his good idea. The character about whom he really enthuses is their preposterous Uncle Alexandre, 'dandy garbage man', a homosexual in endless pursuit of love. Alexandre runs a successful refuse disposal business which gives the author the opportunity to be literature's Rembrandt of rubbish: the descriptions of rotting filth are indeed compelling. The book is full of powerful and revolting images….

After Alexandre's own death (and he predominates for some 300 pages) the lively poison seems to evaporate. The twins are turned to again, lifelessly: one of them gets engaged, the other jealously breaks that up. So the disengaged one stomps off round the world, followed by the cross one. The way is thus opened to Monsieur Tournier to make use of much travelling experience, perhaps funded by his prize money. We get an intellectuals' guided tour of Venice (reflections on Vivaldi), and Japan (essays on the Zen garden). There are the occasional glimmers of searingly impressive description. But not enough to alter the conclusion that Gemini is a book that should be flung on one of those rubbish dumps to which the author is so attracted.

Angela Huth, "Electric Rubens" (© British Broadcasting Corp., 1981; reprinted by permission of Angela Huth), in The Listener, Vol. 106, No. 2740, December 17 and 24, 1981, p. 793.∗


Michel Tournier World Literature Analysis


Tournier, Michel (Vol. 6)