Everyone should read Grabinoulor*; – and yet, I might easily not have, since I’d never heard of it, or of Pierre Albert-Birot (see his extensive French Wikipedia page; cf the English one). I came across it on Amazon and three things attracted me to it:
- It had an odd title, and the author had an odd double-barrelled French name
- It was published by Dalkey Archive
- It was translated by Barbara Wright, who I only know otherwise as the translator of Raymond Queneau
This should be enough for everyone, I would have thought; so you can stop reading here and go out and buy it (or at least order it off Amazon, because you won’t find it in a shop).
What’s it about? It’s hard to say. – Let’s just quote the opening of the opening chapter:
That morning Grabinoulor woke up with his heart full of sunshine and his nose standing up straight in the middle of his face a sign of fine weather and just a glance at his friendly blanket showed that it wasn’t only his mind that was reaching out to life in virile expectation
While he was happily washing his hairy body he went jumping naked through the woods and published a book then he put his clothes on and even had some compliments from his implacable friend the mirror which isn’t in the habit of paying them lightly then he was immense and went into the street where two girls were going by on bicycles so he saw some legs and some undies and he didn’t know which girl to choose now while this battle was raging inside him the objects of his desire had all but disappeared and it infuriated him to see that the road was turning round and going to get them so the part of him that wanted the white dress and the black hair lashed out so decisively that that the other part was killed and so thoroughly annihilated that no one has ever been able to find it either in this world or the other
As you can see, the punctuation is quite odd: – in fact, aside from chapter headings and paragraph breaks, there isn’t any. The form is a sort of third person stream-of-consciousness where we drift happily mid-sentence between Grabinoulor’s reality and his imagination – much in the manner, I suppose, of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which was written 20 years later, though I doubt somehow the style is exactly comparable; – it also reminded me of Italo Calvino’s Marcovaldo or perhaps Mr Palomar: each chapter is a little fantastic episode of its own.
Albert-Birot wrote six books of Grabinoulor, but this first is the only one published in English. Please can some publisher bring out the other five.
*Well, maybe not everyone.