A compelling, readable and funny biography of a complex character. Books on 'pataphysics can be dense, requiring multiple re-reads of every paragraph if you're like me - not a scholarly type. This book is all the more intelligently written for its accessibility and humour. A really really enjoyable read.
Alistair Brotchie delivers an excellent biography of Jarry whose mythical exploits often overshadow his work - some we find to be true, such as him living in an apartment which has been divided horizontally into two floors which he is able to live in thanks to his small stature, whereas his death due to a binge on absinthe is somewhat far from the truth (though Brotchie's examination of wine merchant invoices found Jarry and his sister were consuming 10 litres of wine a day at the time of his death, alcohol being a contributing factor even if it was tuberculosis that was the cause of death).
The biography unties the myth from the man, and to some extent from his works, though his most famous character Pere Ubu became curiously entangled with the man, part due to people who didn't know him expecting to be insulted and offended by him on making his acquaintance and part from him adopting the speech and mannerisms of Ubu to hide his rural accent. His success at a young age (more in terms of infamy than phynance) was followed by a uphill struggle to be published hindered greatly by his ability to offend any influential publisher of avant garde literature, whereas there was little uphill struggling for his prodigious feats of cycling, fuelled by huge quantities of alcohol and the fish he caught himself.
In latter years Jarry slips further into debt and alcohol which slowly destroy the man even as he becomes more renowned and respected among the new generation of French poets and authors (and quite famously Picasso who after the author's death treasured the revolver Jarry was famed to pull out and start shooting at any volatile moment). All this seems more tragic due to his desire for a simple life, to live by the river in a run-down shack and live off the fish he catches whilst cycling long distances and continuing with his writing. Brotchie resists the urge to sentimentalise instead choosing to paint the starkness of Jarry's life, something often deeply contrasted against his unwavering optimism that almost holds up until the end.
Its an excellent work which succeeds in being both scholarly but also very readable and entertaining. One interesting facet of the book is that Brotchie divides each chapter with a mini chapter musing on some facet of Jarry's life. Particularly interesting concerns the evolution of Ubu Roi, a play originally part of an oral tradition in Jarry's school mocking the pompous and bumbling physics teacher Pere Hèbert that was continually worked upon by generations of students to pile on the indignities the hapless Hèb suffers.
A great read for both hardcore Jarryphiles, and those as yet uninitiated in the science of imaginary solutions. Alfred Jarry's multifaceted persona is explored in a satisfyingly multifarious manner, all of our favourite anecdotes of the eccentric genius are presented and deconstructed; the owls, the absinthe, the revolver and of course a bountiful smearing of MERDRE. However do not expect a misty-eyed romantic hagiography of the 'pataphysical saint'. Brotchie also gives us an unflinching and sometimes uncomfortable rendering of the great man, of a lost, deluded, bankrupt alcoholic who [SPOILER ALERT] ends up lying paralysed in a pool of his own pschitt. The book ends in the way that Faustroll begins, but with considerably less fantasmagorical results for poor Charlotte when the bill for a 'pataphysical life' comes to be settled. An enjoyable, humorous, and tragic portrait of the father of 'pataphysics.
A must-read for any Jarry enthusiast, fans of the Ubu plays and experimental theatre-makers. This book is concise and thorough and written with great consideration for Jarry's Pataphysics. I haven't encountered such a detailed study of Jarry.