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Chroniques d'inquietude.

No matter what tag is tied to his books, we should recognize Gerard Noiret as a poet. He does not, however, write mellifluously; his prose is more like that of Baudelaire's prose poems. In a manner vaguely reminiscent of Dos Passos's Manhattan Transfer, but in much less than half the space, Chroniques d'inquietude provides vignettes of seemingly unrelated incidents or characters who gradually merge into a picture of a French community between 1989 and 1992.

A reactionary priest hears the confession of an obsessed artist-owner of a local gallery; the artist's wife Genevieve has an affair with a man strongly attracted to her but who decides not to leave his own wife. She helps another friend who manages the movie theater where the central event of the fiction takes place; it is called a "Ceremony," and everything comes together there before radiating out again. Genevieve has something of a soothing role, and we might well recall that her namesake, the patron saint of Paris, was credited with protecting that city from attack by Attila's Huns.

Chroniques d'inquietude is dedicated to Jerome (or Hieronymus) Bosch, the Flemish Renaissance artist who lived and painted in 's Hertogenbosch, for which the French translation is Bois-le-Duc. Noiret's novel is set in a fictitious Bois-le-Duc, this one a western suburb of Paris (about where Nanterre is located), and the central "Ceremony" is a gala evening during which several well-known films are shown, accompanied by snacks and refreshments; in the fiction it is called "la nuit des delices," a phrase which echoes the title of Bosch's famous painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. As the Renaissance triptych leads one from the Garden of Eden to Hell, Noiret's night ends in riots caused by roving youths who are not clearly identified but are called "Tonkin rabble" by spectators at the show and might be, metaphorically at least, related to Attila's hordes. They contribute to the inquietude evoked by the title along with external events alluded to or mentioned in the text--the bicentenary of the French Revolution, the Tiananmen Square repression, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Soviet Union, the spread of religious fundamentalism, and the Gulf War. Noiret, however, takes no overt position. As his title states, he gives us a chronicle--that is, a record of an anguished period.

Inquietude has individual implications as well, however. All but two of the thirteen sequences (the length of which varies from one to thirty-five pages) are third-person narratives. The remaining two are told in the first person by different narrators who seem less directly involved in the main fiction leading to and evolving from the central Ceremony--thus perhaps symbolizing the author's own position. The first, in addition to romantic difficulties, has to contend with an invasion of maggots in his apartment, whereas the second is faced with overseeing the removal of a dead woman's body from her apartment (she is the mother of a casual acquaintance). No matter what his or her position is, everyone in this novel must confront deterioration, disquieting situations, outside threats or puzzling confrontations, and death. It all ends, ironically, with the burial of an obnoxious dog killed by its incompetent owner in a fit of rage.

Leon S. Roudiez Columbia University
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Author:Roudiez, Leon S.
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1994
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