PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG APE by Michel Butor

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG APE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Butor's self-styled ""caprice,"" first published in 1967 in France, is an autobiographical fiction in vintage nouveau roman style--though the refracted, elliptical, thickly descriptive narrative isn't all that ""new"" anymore. A sense of mystery pervades Butor's (after The Spirit of Mediterranean Places, 1986, etc.) slim book, which is filled with huge parenthetical asides and occult allusions. A certain Doctor H--, a ""master of ghosts,"" befriends the young author, whose name (Butor) means ""furniture"" in Hungarian. Attending a lyc‚e course (on the problem of God) in Paris during the Occupation opens a whole new world to the narrator, a world of artists and intellectuals, a world in which he is ""an ape."" He reminds us that Toth, the Egyptian god of writing, was often portrayed as an ape, so when he begins a long dream sequence, we are to understand his literal transformation as an ape. Meanwhile, Doctor H-- refers him for a job in Franconia teaching Count W-- how to read French. At the Count's castle, the young man immerses himself in texts--alchemical treatises, The Thousand and One Nights, records of executions--all quoted from liberally. A strange card game repeats itself in the manner of the trick in Last Year at Marienbad. And interspersed throughout are the narrator's dreams of dreams from those years--fabulistic interludes in which a vampire turns him into an ape who stuns everyone by writing in the style of Hegel, Marx, and Jakob B"hme. Amidst much shape-shifting and many monsters, he becomes secretary to the rector of a university. It all ends in an incendiary heap and a mysterious promise to head for Egypt. It's easy to see from this dense but unrewarding text why the French New Wave in fiction is now left to academics, who may have a penchant for such pointless curiosities.

Pub Date: July 15th, 1995
ISBN: 1564780899
Page count: 123pp
Publisher: Dalkey Archive