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4.5 out of 5 stars
The Devil in the Flesh (Penguin Modern Classics)
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on 7 August 2016
This is the 1923 novel that was shocking on its debut in France soon after the WW1 because it relates the first person perspective of a typical sixteen year old Francois having the chance of sex with an older, married woman whilst her husband Jacques is at the front. It is based on fact with this version having an introduction and afterword relating the long shadow the events cast over the true relationship between husband and wife after the war.

The story is dramatic and challenging – they are both guilty of lust, love and ‘cease the day’ of the times. It is extremely well written and quite captivating; I got the feeling she really loved the adolescent. The underage sex (for it starts when the schoolboy is 15) may well be a further and more difficult challenge today? It is also interesting how Francois’s father seems to almost promote the affair whilst the rest of society (landlords, neighbours etc) abhor the deceit yet hide it on the husband’s return.

For me the most shocking was not the affair or underage sex but the first quote below-

“It was I who dictated the only tender letters he ever received from her. She wrote them against her will, in tears, as I threatened that I would never see her again if she disobeyed. That Jacques should owe his only happiness to me did something to mitigate my remorse”

“The painful thing is not to leave life, but to leave whatever gives it meaning. When love is one’s life, what is the difference between living together and dying together”

“The field shivered in the evening breeze. Our selfish desire succeeded in forgetting prejudice, sacrificing the corn to the comfort of our love as it had sacrificed Jacques”

“Love must offer a great many advantages, since all men entrust it with their freedom”

Brilliant and one of the most thought provoking books I’ve read – 5 stars.
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on 15 January 2012
'The Devil in the Flesh' is the first of two novels written by teenage prodigy Raymond Radiguet before his untimely death from typhoid fever at the age of twenty. Semi-autobiographical, the story charts a tumultuous love affair between a sixteen year old boy and a married woman whose husband is away fighting in the First World War.

The book is inherently nasty, exploring lust and obsession at its most selfish, and yet one cannot help but root for the couple's success. The unnamed narrator's ruminations on love are as profound as they are disturbing and pessimistic. Theirs is an all-consuming romance which is destined to end in ruins. His feelings for Marthe are paradoxical: they are tainted by, or perhaps they inspire, his 'despotic instincts' which drive him to possess and control her both mentally and physically. Whilst she wallows in her contempt for her husband, burning and tearing his unopened letters, he fluctuates between feelings of remorse and a jealous hatred of the cuckolded man. Their affair becomes the scandal of the town - which inspires an amusing scene of black comedy - and all the while, time is steadily marching towards the inevitable: the war can't last forever and the lovers must soon face the consequences of their actions.

Controversial upon its release, this is a book that still retains the power to disturb us today. Set during a time of unimaginable loss and anguish, the protagonists remain selfishly indifferent. The Great War is never depicted first hand and we are barely afforded a glimpse of soldier-husband Jacques - a man who seems to exist in a reality far apart from that of these young and careless people. As the narrator informs us: 'Let those who are already reproaching me try to imagine what the war meant for so many of us very young boys - four years of holiday.'
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on 19 May 2015
arrived timely and was as decribed
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on 17 October 2014
beautifully written; capturing the emotions of first love and the era it was written in
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on 17 July 2013
My browsing experience on Amazon led me to this wonderful novel, "The Devil in the Flesh, by Raymond Radiguet. I had not heard of the novel before my browsing experience and I must admit that one of things that attracted me to considering the novel as one that I should read is the erotic and alluring picture on the front cover - at least in the edition that was on display on Amazon at the time. There certainly is much to be said about the cover in which a novel is presented. However, eroticism aside, between the covers of this short novel is a profound analysis of what love means albeit through the selfish and manipulative perspective of our nameless narrator.

Radiguet's novel is set against the backdrop of the First World War. One of the implicit impacts of the war is that the young men of the nameless town where the novel is set is drawn away to the battle fields. The young heroine's, Marthe, fiancé and later husband, Jacques, is one such young man taken up by the war. Into this vacuum steps our young nameless 16 year old narrator who falls for Marthe, aged 19. The narrator's love is reciprocated by Marthe and their love develops into a full blown adult-like relationship with the eventual birth of a son. In the context of a ménage a trios, youthful love and the local people's reaction, Radiguet presents us with a brilliant exploration, from one perspective, of what it means to be in love.

Along with the exploration of love, the novel is about desire. Radiguet used the backdrop of the war to allow his main characters to push against the boundaries of local conventions. In this case and in the particular time period Radiguet seems to test just how far the towns folks would allow the desires of a 16 year old boy and a 19 year old young woman to be realised and flourish. Of course, the key desire here is that of the flesh. The question is would the town folk grant our nameless narrator his wish when he tells us that: "I wished for nothing except this everlasting betrothal our bodies lying barely touching in front of the fire, me not daring to move for fear that a single gesture might be enough to dispel the happiness."

But I must return to the novel's main theme that of love - indeed an illicit love. For such a short novel and given the age of Radiguet when he wrote it (I a told he was in his late teens), it brilliantly explores the deep recesses of forbidden love. It is a deeply touching account of what it means to be in love. There are the secrets kept from family and friends only to be uncovered later; there are the uncertainty and insecurity in respect of decisions and actions, and then there is the coming out with its consequences of reprimand and worse social ostracism.

The novel is also about a coming of age for both young lovers especially the young male participant. He tells us: "It was clear that I still had a long way to go before becoming a man." But the reader must not be sucked in by the romance partly borne of Marthe's sterile marriage. No matter where our sympathy lies what cannot be ignored is that Radiguet has left us with an unpleasant young character - almost and anti-hero. Even though he is younger than Marthe, the main character, narrator, is nonetheless self-centred and manipulative. He controls not only Marthe but also her relationship with Jacques. In one scene this is what the narrator does to assuage his conscience: "It was me who dictated the only affectionate letters that he (Jacques) ever received from his wife she wrote them under protest, in tears, but I threatened never to see her again if she didn't do as I said. That Jacques should owe his only moments of joy to me helped ease my remorse.

The writing, and hence dare I say the translation, is a joy to read. The novel's figures of speech are extravagant and wonderful. Here is the narrator describing his feelings on seeing Marthe, now married, after a good period of time: "I felt happy and sad all at once, like a playwright who sees a performance of his play and realises too late all it flaws." I loved the novel's aphoristic moments as it delivered beautiful short pithy maxims such as on the narrator's first kiss of Marthe he tells the reader: "The flavour of that first kiss disappointed me, like fruit you taste for the first time. It's not in new things that we experience the greatest pleasure, but in habit." I also wallowed in its purple passages, a throw back to the nineteenth century novel: "Marthe, my jealousy followed her to the grave, I wanted there to be nothing after death. In the same way, we can't bear to think that the one we love is with a crowd of people at a party to which we haven't been invited."

I was charmed by this novel and I some places it brought a smile to my face. It is quite simply a wonderful novel about love wit a subtle pointer to the social climate of the time. It has a place among the great early twentieth century novel - do read it.
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on 22 December 2015
Enjoyed this. Written by a young French man, who we are led to believe was writing through experience of having had a relationship with a woman whose husband was off fighting in the First World War. When it was published, it caused a scandal and was seen as unpatriotic and bad for national morale. If it really does represent the thoughts of the author, based on experience, then he is a clever, if slightly humourless chap. Maybe even a touch snotty nosed and emotionally spoiled?
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on 4 February 1999
Radiguet's first novel was written when the author was between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. Set in France during the First World War it is the story of a precocious boy who gradually becomes drawn into a passionate and reckless affair with a married woman, Marthe. Marthe's husband is fighting in the trenches and the community is outraged when the affair becomes public knowledge. It is this sense of public indignation that Radiguet reacts against. In an era when the questioning of a nation's authority left one a political and emotional suspect Radiguet's story is a refreshing and corruscating plea in support of individual expression. The Devil in the Flesh shows, like all Radiguet's fiction, a belief in the sanctity and correctness of love above all other concerns. He sees betrayal where other writers see fidelity, and fidelity where others see betrayal. Love is shown to be an extraordinary gift and its is the duty of each individual to follow the prompting of the heart regardless of public opinion. The author is strict in adherance to his own moral code and the result is the most honest, most moving love story of any age. One of the great works of this, or any other, century.
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on 25 February 2002
I hadn't heard about Raymond Radiguet before but stumbled across him while surfing amazon and decided to give it a go and i have to say i was not disappointed.
Hard to believe he was only between the ages of 16 and 18 when he wrote this. For his age the talent and wisdom he shows within his writing is pretty remarkable, the characters are extremely well written and the relationship between the two lovers very much believable(he himself had a relationship with an older woman). The story itself has a quick pace and he never stops to mull over unessacery details. The ending is extremely sad and left me with a real sense of loss.
I don't think apart from Le Grande Meaulnes have i ever been moved by a novel quite as much as this.
Not many people seem to have heard of him which is a shame as he produced in my opinion a classic novel of real depth and beauty, you can only imagine had he lived beyond his 20 years what else he would have been able to have produced.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 February 2013
'What appears dream to others...seems to me to be as real as cheese to a cat- in spite of the glass that covers it. If the glass breaks, the cat takes advantage, even if it is his master who breaks it and cuts his hand in the process.'

Thus our 16 year old narrator begins to explain his affair with the slightly older Marthe during the Great War. Affianced when she first meets her young lover, Marthe nevertheless goes on to marry Jacques, who spends most of the novel away fighting - conveniently for their romance. As the author observes: 'what the war meant for so many of us very young boys - four years of holiday.'

This short (127 page) novel follows their affair and the immaturity of the writer in dealing with an adult situation. Unlike other reviewers, I failed to particularly engage with the lead characters. The true sadness was in the letters from poor Jacques away at the Front, bewildered at his new wife's lack of interest in him - and the way Marthe heartlessly tears up some of these unread. Amazingly well written by a young man between the ages of 16 and 18 - yet left me untouched.
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on 31 August 2006
I ran across this one in a charity bookshop and picked up this Bristol edition mainly because I wanted some reading practice in French and partly because the story sounded intriguing: a love story set against the backdrop of the First World War. However, this is no heroic tale of love shattered by war, but rather a grubby (yet beautiful) little tale of a sixteen-year-old student and lonely wife falling in love during the absence of her husband.

Don't be fooled by the apparent simplicity of the novella as I was at first. It is all easy to assume that the novel is a simple autobiography of Radiguet, because he was not much older than the protagonist of the novel at the time of writing. However, the novel is well-crafted and the narrative more complex than it first seems; Radiguet the writer is much more sophisticated than the adolescent presented in the text. The narrative is full of adolescent anxiety, confusion and lies, but the beauty of it is that the reader must discover all that for him/herself.

Thus the novella is an experimental text that seeks to penetrate the human psyche not simply by describing it, but by asking the reader to judge the characters, their words and actions for ourselves. Thus, as you read on, the novella develops from a simple love story into a probing inquiry into how we perceive love and ourselves.

Do consider reading the text in the original French if you can, the language is fairly simple. The Bristol edition has useful footnotes and an interesting introduction.
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