The Devil in the Flesh by Raymond Radiguet
In this work of art, Raymond Radiguet asserts himself as that postmodern writer par excellence.
The Frenchman demands respect from his reader, assuming from her or him a certain knowledge of the First World War. This allows Radiguet to delve into his masterpiece (yes, masterpiece) without the unnecessary – and often ineffective – descriptive jargon usually associated with semi-autobiographical novels. In this respect, this book appeals to me more than the brilliant, semi-autobiographical affair accounted for in The Great Gatsby a couple of years later, though I am aware that Fitzgerald’s descriptive tone is precisely what is celebrated by others critiquing his work.
Nonetheless, The Devil in the Flesh is an account of a complex romantic affair with an older Parisian woman while her husband is away at war. Radiguet’s articulate nature distances the 20th century author from the romanticist tendencies of the dark and descriptive texts occupying the century before; though the same articulate explorations of love and intimacy suffice in their impact, leaving many readers with endless imagery that ponders for more. It is no wonder why this book caused such a stir in its time in France – and had even been banned – though one wonders at least how Raymond could have possibly matured as a writer had he not died of Typhoid at 20 years of age.
It is very hard to criticise this book. Every word, every sentence, then chapter – then, in fact, the book – pass by absolutely effortlessly, and regrettably so. His controversial story is accompanied by broad glimpses of existentialism and other philosophical explorations which can only be intentional, for such an articulate individual must have understood that people read the works of others largely to understand a little of themselves:
“Facing death calmly is praiseworthy only if one faces it alone. Death together is no longer death, even for unbelievers. The source of sorrows lies not in leaving life, but in leaving that which gives it meaning. When love is our whole life, what difference is there between living together and dying together?”
Raymond was more than just a novelist.