BELLE DU SEIGNEUR by Albert Cohen

BELLE DU SEIGNEUR

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The first US publication of a celebrated 1968 work that won France's Grand Prix du Roman and earned its late author (18951981) comparison with Joyce and Proust and serious Nobel Prize consideration. This novel, in fact, concludes an ambitious trilogy whose earlier volumes (published in 1930 and 1938) trace the youthful experiences, in love and politics, of Solal, a Jew born on the Greek island of Cephalonia (as was Albert Cohen) whose career success owes much to his pragmatic concealment of his Jewish roots. Here, Solal has risen to an influential position as an official at the League of Nations in Geneva. The story's action, which occurs in the mid-30s, is concerned only nominally with League business (at least for the first 800 pages), focusing instead on the family of Solal's colleague Adrien Deume, a foppish minor bureaucrat who imagines himself ``a cross between Lord Byron and Talleyrand,'' and whose beautiful wife Ariane embodies to Solal ``the Absolute'' romantic fulfillment of which he dreams, and whom, with Stendhalian suavity, he sets out to possess. The adulterous rapture these two share is thereafter vividly counterpointed against the Olympian snobbery and myopia of the Deume's circle (Adrien's parents Hippolyte and Antoinette are particularly hilarious avatars of haute-bourgeoisie complacency). The story flags halfway through, during an extended diapason in which the lovers mutually celebrate their ``conjoinings,'' but it's effectively varied most of the way by Cohen's deployment of an impressive variety of rhetorical forms (heroically translated by David Coward), and by its powerful long climax and dÇnouement in which Solal's chastened discovery that he cannot not be a Jew, and that love does not last, leads to an erotic GîtterdÑmmerung (reminiscent of Zola) that will leave few readers unshaken. Satiric, digressive, meditative, didactic: Proustian indeed in its best moments; cloyingly wearisome at its worst. This is a great novel, and its appearance here in English translation really is, as they say, a literary event.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-670-82187-X
Page count: 992pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996