Death of the Hind Legs & Other Stories
“Declare your interest!” they shout in the House of Commons when an MP who owns a chain of hock shops omits to say so when orating hotly in favor of a bill to lower the tax on hock shops. So, book reviewers who also write books ought to declare their interest when reviewing books with resemblances to ones which they have written themselves. Particularly if they are going to voice a dislike of the book under review, they should feel obliged to warn the reader that their deep sense of duty may be only a mask for a most malicious prejudice.
So, having just written a novel of which one-third consists of question-and-answer interrogation of a prisoner, I must declare an indignant interest in Robert Pinget’s The Inquisitory, a novel which consists entirely of just such an interrogation. I begin, naturally enough, with the strong prejudice that my own one-third way is a good thing and that M. Pinget’s three-third’s way is too much of a good thing. M. Pinget also brings out all my insular prejudice against Continentals who have never heard of common sense and, on taking up a theory or chasing a technique, ride the damned thing so hard that it has dropped dead before it is halfway round the course.
THE INTERROGATION GAME was not invented by me or M. Pinget. Too much indulgence in it (it has been suggested) by Socrates was the real reason why the Athenians decided to shut him up with hemlock. On the more vulgar level of life, we all know that there’s nothing to beat interrogation in a play or a movie. Devote your last act or reel to an adulteress in a dock with a paid monster of the judiciary barking filthy questions at her, and you can put your feet up for life.
But can anyone imagine a whole movie so composed? Or a whole novel such as M. Pinget’s? Three hundred and ninety-nine pages long at that (what failure of stamina obliged a halt short of 400?). Think of the technical problem involved—the endless rigging of both the questions and the answers, the long struggle to give an appearance of naturalness to what can only seem to be artificial! The photograph of M. Pinget on the back of his book shows a head of immense firmness with powerful eyes staring obliguely at the world, and one is bound to feel that he needed every atom of this striking equipment to push through his remorseless project. It is made the more remorseless by the fact that M. Pinget uses no inverted commas, no question marks, no punctuation at all except the comma. God knows why he clung to this.
Faced with this sort of novel, one is obliged to ask: Was it the only way in which it could have been written? Would it have been as good or better written in a more ordinary way? Does M. Pinget’s way add …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purity August 24, 1967