PDF Coup de Grace: PDF

by Marguerite Yourcenar

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Book Report: Told in the first person past perfect, this tale of three young people caught in a highly hormonal passage of their lives at the same moment as the Russian Revolution overthrows the privileged existences they'd led until that time purports to be the memory of Erick von Lhomond as he sits in a train station cafe, on his way to who knows where after his career as a soldier of fortune has led to a wounding in the Spanish Civil War then newly ended. Erick recalls his love for sibling aristos Conrad and Sophie, children of the Count of Reval, and his cousins. Sophie falls in love with him; he and Conrad are already involved. Triangle collapses, the two siblings die, and cowardly, contemptible Erick soldiers on. It's all in the hows, as life so often is when one is young; now, in the fullness of his wasted years, Erick is seeing the whys, and they're keeping him up nights. And not a moment too soon, ask me.

My Review: récit (French: “narrative” or “account”) a brief novel, usually with a simple narrative line; studiedly simple but deeply ironic tales in which the first-person narrator reveals the inherent moral ambiguities of life by means of seemingly innocuous reminiscences.

It's a very French narrative form, is the récit, the novella's Goth cousin, all chains and weird makeup effects and scary-looking hair. It's perfect for telling this sort of moralizing by a man with no morals tale, and there aren't that many English-language writers willing to do this without oodles of padding and the crutch of multiple characters. Yourcenar, whose Memoirs of Hadrian lives as one of my all-time favorite reads, tackled this difficult task in 1939, before WWII's official starting gun. She was quite clearly aware that war was inevitable and imminent, and wrote this tale as a protest against the further damage inevitable in a war.

The ending of the book, stark and violent and horrfying, sums up the expectations of this Belgian survivor of the First World War, and they were not in the least bit too dark or pessimistic.

I found the casual, unremarked-on anti-Semitism of the book jarring. I know it was a part of the culture Yourcenar lived in, but it hasn't aged well. I wasn't very impressed with the narrator's casual, caddish sexuality either...Conrad could certainly have done better, and Sophie's awakening has such tragic consequences that it makes one doubt the sanity of the child (she's sixteen to Conrad's and Erick's twenty during the brief span covered by this book).

Recommended? Well, on the whole, no. It's not a casual book, and it would offer too few thrills for most people in the modern audience. For me, I'm glad I read it, but I won't re-read it ever.

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Book Title
Book Author
PublisherFarrar, Straus and Giroux
Release date 01.05.1981
Pages count164
eBook formatPaperback, (torrent)En
File size3.1 Mb
Book rating4.46 (501 votes)
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