Chester W. Obuchowski
Inasmuch as war looms large in Les Bêtes and lies at the very center of Le Temps des morts Gascar impresses one as being of that class of writers, of which Ludwig Renn and Norman Mailer are prominent representatives, who achieve by far their highest literary flights under its crushing impact.
With Les Bêtes it is the world of Kafka born anew: strange, somber, mysterious, irrational, eternally menacing. The animals, swarming everywhere, quail helplessly before the onslaughts of their human tormentors, who, in their turn, fail not only to breach the curtain of incomprehension isolating the species but also that which segregates them from their fellow creatures. And in the three most powerful stories, those directly embraced within this study, a Kafkaesque dream-like haze envelops the impotent animals and anguished humans, overlying the world of reality and lending an air of timelessness to their tragic situation.
Not necessarily intended as such, "Les Chevaux," the book's opening selection, can readily be taken to be a strong indictment of war…. Throughout, war is ingeniously painted as epic chaos and a massacre des innocents. (pp. 327-28)
The grim face of war again terrorizes men and animals alike in "Les Bêtes," which gives its title to the volume. A masterly contrived piece, it would rate inclusion in any anthology of contemporary short stories…. In a world gone mad, in a concentrationary world, humans thus become dehumanized, being reduced to life on an animal plane.
"Entre chiens et loups" … has as its setting a military kennel in the French zone of occupation of post-World War II Germany. Here, under simulated conditions of war, human targets, grotesquely clad in not entirely protective clothing, are pitted against dogs whose savagery is as nurtured as it is natural. (pp. 328-29)
On balance, the book's human kind have all the better of it in their relentless strife with their animal relations…. It is with the grim consequences of the brutalization of man that Le Temps des morts deals. (pp. 329-30)
Gascar obviously had an initial advantage in writing of a world he experienced in his own...
(The entire section is 922 words.)