on 15 December 2013
This man needs help! The title, I am reliably informed, means Death by Vagina. At certain points the minutiae is intense and poetic (Cendrars was a gifted poet). There are some laugh-out-loud sequences. Then we go on fleeting prosodic bouts whipping from country to country following the characters, forcing the narrative along like a dull battering ram, and the book becomes a trial to read. Perhaps it should have been kept as a short story or the better parts crafted into a long poem. If you like weird fare for literature, give this one a go. I wouldn't queue up a second time to endure it.
on 12 October 2008
A young physician with nihilistic leanings helps an "incurable" patient named Moravagine to escape from a lunatic asylum. Thereafter the two men embark on a globe-trotting escapade taking in, amongst other things, the Russian Revolution and World War I.
This is a bold and entertaining novel written in a muscular style which is at once insightful, direct and, I suppose, pretty harsh in its outlook. Yes it could be said that, as a whole, it doesn't quite hang together - for instance: Moravagine's character seems to shift between Jack the Ripper, Quasimodo and Hugh Hefner, and sometimes he (Moravagine) appears to be tacked on as a freakish sideshow to the narrator's strange adventures and anarchistic thoughts.
All in all I'd define the novel as an intense, flamboyant and peculiar vision, flawed only by its untamed ambition.
on 24 August 2010
This is a strange modern classic written by Cendrars in 1926. It is a fantastic tale, a hint of `Master and Marguarita' crossed with Don Quixote with a hint of McCarthy's `No country for old men' but nothing supernatural occurs. I understand it has elements of autobiography ?. It is a linear but very descriptive and provocative narrative which occasional deviates to give opinions on war, women or revolution. The tale itself could not be said to be gory or `x' rated.
This is a tale not so much of Moravagine himself but of the unnamed psychiatrist narrator (Cendrars himself makes a cameo entrance near the end of the story) who travels with him. Moravagine is a 28 year old psycho locked up by his Austrian royal family in 1894 for murdering his arranged bride and other associated madness behaviour like killing his dog on a whim. The narrator seems to fall fascinated with Moravagine and quickly helps him to escape; Moravagine takes the opportunity to murder the first young girl he meets. The pair then undertake travels first to Berlin (which ends in a murder spree). They then go for a long period in Russia engaging in the revolutionary turmoil; a key character is a woman Mascha who Moravagine falls for. It is in Russian that Moravagine seems to control himself and thereafter appears to cease his mad murdering transposing as it were this to the violent era; the narrator and Moravagine appear to be quite happy to plant bombs - they end up needing to make a hasty escape to England and then America. They then meet Lathuille who takes them up the river Orinoco and some adventure with the head shrinking native Indians ensues - here Moravagine is most normal perhaps. The couple arrive in Paris to join WW1; Moravagine becomes a pilot and the narrator a soldier (there I'll say no more so as not to spoil the ending for you).
I started thinking the tale was going to be really really good but, after an initial excellent start, for me it never quite worked, and as a story I didn't really care so much for the characters or its varied and unreal style by the end. Moravagine's madness didn't dominate as much as I expected and he was neither villian nor anti-hero. There are clearly some clever, subtle and not so subtle reflections, contrasts and ideas in the narrative but somehow I always felt I was missing something (perhaps Cendrars just wasn't getting enough and wanted some 'more-vaginas'?).
Here are a couple of quotes that caught my attention and perhaps together summarise the book: "Good and evil shake my prison, and anonymous suffering too, that perpetual motion that defies nature's laws" and secondly "Woman is masochistic. The sole principle of life is masochism and masochism is the principle of death. For which reason existence is idiotic, imbecile and vain, without ultimate purpose. And life is futile."