Truants and Cuckolds
- The Devil in the Flesh by Raymond Radiguet, translated by Christopher Moncrieff
Penguin, 151 pp, £9.99, March 2012, ISBN 978 0 14 119464 6
In The Devil in the Flesh, Raymond Radiguet’s novel of 1923, there are no machine guns, no trenches, no clumsy helmets or Five-Nines. At one point there’s some fighting several kilometres away, but the sound of artillery fire is audible only briefly. All the totems of First World War literature are absent, and yet the most interesting thing about the book is that it is even so a story about the war. The novel begins around 1914 and ends a few pages after the ringing of the armistice bells in 1918. There are no scenes of warfare because it’s a story about the home front, but even stories about the home front tend to include some ever present reminder of war, or some direct incursion: in French fiction, most prominently, Vercors’s Le Silence de la mer, in which a German officer is stationed in a French house, or in English fiction the epilogue of Brideshead Revisited, in which Charles Ryder is billeted back at Brideshead after it has been requisitioned by the army. Radiguet is less direct, and more perverse, in his representation of war. The Devil in the Flesh isn’t conventionally anti-war, or even very concerned about the parties fighting the war: it is wholly irreverent about what actually happens in wartime.
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[*] Count d’Orgel’s Ball is available from New York Review Books in a translation by Annapaola Cancogni and from Pushkin Press in a translation by Violet Schiff.