21 May 2017

Elsa Triolet: Le Cheval blanc (1943)

At five hundred tightly packed pages, Elsa Triolet's Le Cheval blanc (a reference to protagonist Michel Vigaud's recurring vision) is no quick read. It's invigorating, infuriating, bewitching, fascinating, dazzling, and many more strong adjectives, and I suspect that I may at some time in the future re-read it and come to different conclusions, but for the moment this'll have to do.

Lachland Mackinnon, in The Lives of Elsa Triolet (1992), says that Triolet claimed that the novel owes something to André Gide's notion of the acte gratuit by Lafcadio in Les Caves du Vatican (1914), and he adds that he finds it 'Hemingwayesque'. Neither Gide nor Hemingway came to my mind, but Sartre, with whom Triolet doesn't appear to have got on at all, definitely surfaces to my consciousness.

Mackinnon, for what his comments may or may not be worth, states that Triolet considered this her most autobiographical work. Michel, the son of a Russian opium addict, has a restless life in which he becomes a drug smuggler, a kind of tramp, the husband of a rich American whose lifestyle he exploits to the full and owns houses, a plane, etc., and also is a globetrotter, a successful singer, and so on. But his trump card invariably involves walking out when he doesn't like things, or when it gets too hot (or cold).

He dies a heroic death in war, but is he a hero? I'm not too sure, but then I suspect that many readers must have given up on this meandering, almost plotless tale before the end. Probably their mistake, that one, and the more I think of it the more I feel inclined to re-visit this novel.

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