CONTRE-JOUR by Gabriel Josipovici


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Subtitled ""A Triptych after Pierre Bonnard,"" Josipovici's spare, angular book goes behind the lightsome, sensual, and yet classical calmness of Bonnard's canvases to imagine all the dark personal pain that might actually be walled-up within them. The first section is the anguished cry of the painter Bonnard's daughter, now grown. She looks back on a childhood in which father and mother all but locked her out of their mutual obsession: the mother enwrapped in the father's sacred work (and cruel single mindedness), the father/ painter enwrapped in his repeated formal investigations of the wife's form in the bath. The wife's section, next, details her bereavement at her grown daughter's estrangement--and the wife's utter loneliness, living with the anchorite painter, The reason she bathes incessantly, it turns out, is to soothe a case of chronic eczema (a most puckering metaphor)--which at least, at the same time as it helps her skin, keeps her literally in front of her husband's eyes, if not his heart. And then, last and shortest, we hear from the painter himself: a short note to a friend tel. ling of the wife's death. Charged and embittered as the lives are here, Josipovici's curt paragraphs and bitten-off stylings work less powerfully than more relaxed but no less gall-filled books about artistic domestic monstrousness like Malamud's Dubin's Lives and Roth's The Ghost Writer. In these, the artist-as-ogre-of, withdrawal seems more specific, less figural than here. But it's a sobering little piece, nonetheless.

Pub Date: May 28th, 1986
Publisher: Carcanet--dist. by Harper & Row