THE CAVE OF HEAVEN by Patrick Grainville


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Grainville's English-language debut is ostensibly about a journalist who roams around a mysterious excavation site in southwestern France and meets a menagerie of landscapes, lovers, and eccentrics--but its real subject is Grainville's pedantic intoxication with his own ostentatious prose style. Journalist Simon is a sort of paragon, endlessly curious, endlessly virile, sensitive and thoughtful. A modified stream-of-consciousness melds together mythological and scientific references, flashbacks, and visionary instances until the book achieves a kind of inspired babble. Along the way, Simon couples with various willing partners, and the descriptions of his affairs are rendered in stilted romance prose: ""His mouth already latched upon the gift's fine lips, plumped by a fleshy central ridge. He nibbled this bud. His mouth opened and his tongue explored this avid cavity."" Grainville is attempting, of course, to turn flesh into landscape and vice versa, to eroticize everything in the style of an Edward Weston photograph. The literal and metaphorical dig (and the surrounding mountains) where the search is on for a 500,000-year-old skull becomes itself one of Simon's lovers (""He ponders his body with the earth's ashes""). In the meantime, the fable-like cast of characters includes an archeologist from Cameroon, local villagers, an escaped terrorist (who, in the book's lyrical climax, is hunted down), a gold prospector, and tourists. ""What a menagerie, what a procession!"" is a comment intended for the nonhuman cast of characters, but we're obviously supposed to vouch in similar terms for the thinly sketched shadows (""the beast who experiences remorse, that thinking biped alarmed by his conscience!"") who people these pages. D.H. Lawrence did all this much better--and decades ago.

Pub Date: Aug. 8th, 1990
Publisher: Dalkey Archive