Violette Leduc Michael Wood - Essay

Michael Wood

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In The Taxi two] children, brother and sister, sixteen and fourteen respectively, decide, one day on a merry-go-round on the boulevard de Clichy, to take three months of lessons in sex from a pimp and a prostitute, and then to dedicate themselves to each other for one whole day, in a taxi driving around Paris. The book is composed of their dialogue on this day.

The point, I take it, beyond the trickery and dainty pornography (incest thrown in for those who like their vicarious kicks lightly spiced), is a gamble with language: you speak the unspeakable, you have two characters talk when what they are up to is seemingly beyond talk. Indeed, the book is all talk. The children lapse into significant silences now and then, while they get down to other things, but they are out of them like lightning. There is something desperate here, which Mme Leduc's technical virtuosity releases but cannot hold. Language is being used not only to quicken an otherwise dead reality, and not only to suggest how incapable we are of silence, but to make do somehow in reality's total absence.

Here and in other works, Mme Leduc suggests that mediocre lives can have their intensities, their fine moments which will not die on them. We can even organize our intensities, in the way that the children in The Taxi set up their day as a glory to remember, a provision to see them through a tedious normal life to come…. And to preserve these treasures, we need language, of course—"Talk," a character says in The Taxi. "It will be music for later." But a glance at some of Mme Leduc's early books … and her later work suggests that language for her is less a record of lived passions than a substitute for them, a literary insistence on something that has no life outside literature. We hear the sound of an echoing solipsism, the voice of a person alone in a prison of exciting words, and … we think of Genet. (pp. 15-16)

Michael Wood, "Squish," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; copyright © 1972 Nyrev, Inc.), Vol. XIX, No. 2, August 10, 1972, pp. 14-16.∗