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The Inquisitory by Robert Pinget
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The Inquisitory (1962)

by Robert Pinget

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I read this book in French—not too hard for me!—upon an LTer's recommendation. The only other review of this book (by lriley) concludes with: "IMO one of the best books published in the French language in the 20th century." I'm not sure I can be as laudative, but the fact is that this book is really impressive. Pinget, even without having been a member of Oulipo—at least as far as I know—, could have well belonged it. He is what Oulipeans called "un plagiaire par anticipation". (I don't think it's necessary to translate this phrase.)

lriley also states that this book bears a ressemblance to Perec's Life a User's Manual. It does indeed, but also to The Things for all the descriptions of furniture. To me, the difference between Pinget and Perec is that Perec, who was more scientifically educated, would have included an index at the end of the book to help the reader with the hundreds of characters that inhabit the book. This number of characters is properly amazing. I guess Pinget had a big headache when he finished his book. From the beginning, I had the impression to be like a dry spunge which is progressively and very slowly imbibed by the narrative and all the descriptions. I thought at first that the absence of punctuation would be a problem, but one forgets it after a few pages.

Quite unexpectedly, there are many unvoluntary puns uttered by the old servant. These are not exactly puns, but rather mispronunciations of words and phrases such as those one can spot sometimes in the speech of uneducated people. I wonder how these puns could be translated to English... For instance, at page 26 (my copy in French begins at page 7 and ends at page 489, in case you have time to look up the English version after computing proportions), there is comme dit Marthe quand on ne sort pas de la cuisine de Jupiter il faut tâcher d'y rentrer which is an allusion to the phrase il croit sortir de la cuisse de Jupiter, literally translated he thinks he's coming out of Jupiter's thigh, meaning he believes he's a god or a half-god, but he's not". /cuisse/ has been changed to /cuisine/, and the servant's statement can be translated as when you don't come out of Jupiter's kitchen, it's better to try to enter it, which of course has no meaning. I wonder how this could be translated to English. This book should have been a nightmare for the translator. I list below some other mispronunciations of words by the servant.

I found a probable misprint (pp 454-455 in my copy). I wonder if this error has been kept in the translation to English: in the following text, Gérard should be replaced by Chantre:
Chantre est venu lui [Marthe] dire au revoir (...) ces messieurs en robe de chambre avec Gérard disaient au revoir à Rivière (...) [Rivière] est monté avec Gérard dans sa voiture c'est une marque anglaise et ils ont démarré et voilà
(...)
Où se rendaient Rivière et Chantre

In conclusion, lriley is right: highly recommendable book for its originality.

My best mispronunciations

moi elle me trouvait l'oeil droit d'un clergyman c'est des gens qui volent tout ce qu'ils trouvent et l'oeil gauche d'un nymphatique
clergyman: read cleptomane
nymphatique: read lymphatique, the deformation nymphatique probably stemming from nymphomane, to rhyme with clergyman/cleptomane

comme dit Marthe quand on ne sort pas de la cuisine de Jupiter il faut tâcher d'y rentrer
See supra

il y a un jet d'eau au milieu à plusieurs jets avec des statues c'est des dieux mythologiques Neptune et Amphibite je crois
Amphibite: read Amphitrite; Amphibite sounds like amphibie, and also rhyme with bite

c'est lui qui a opéré ma soeur de la pandicite
la pandicite: read l'appendicite, la pandicite sounding like la pandémie

il revenait régulièrement crotté à neuf heures et demie pour son bricfesse avec Lady Chastenoy qui était levée
bricfesse: read breakfast; bric evokes the verb briquer, and fesse

ce qui fait que les amis de ces messieurs se désintéressent de lui c'est un misancroque
misancroque: read misanthrope

pour les spectacles ils ont un tripe-tise mieux qu'en ville paraît-il
tripe-tise: read strip-tease

et derrière j'oublie un salon pour les électriciennes qu'ils appellent ça, des manières d'infirmières pour arranger la figure maquillage et tout
électriciennes: read esthéticiennes

c'est après qu'on a su qu'il était maniaque un homme cédé comme on dit
un homme cédé: read un obsédé

La Vinasse comme on l'appelait il aimait trop sa marchandise il est mort d'un sirop du foie
un sirop du foie: read une cirrhose du foie

je n'aime pas avoir affaire à elle sitôt qu'on insiste elle montre ses grands cheveux prenant l'air offensé
elle montre ses grands cheveux: read elle monte sur ses grands chevaux

ça s'appelait les Foutreries d'Escarpin une histoire compliquée où le larbin fait le pitre tout le temps
les Foutreries d'Escarpin: read les Fourberies de Scapin

Je n'ai jamais aimé ça les armures et les crottes de mailles et les cuirasses il n'y a que ça le long des murs
les crottes de mailles: read les cottes de mailles

un visiteur un jour a éteint sa cigarette en plein sur la cuisse d'une noyade
noyade: read naïade

les portes du reste ferment armétique pour la poussière
armétique: read hermétique ( )
5 vote Pepys | Jul 17, 2008 |
To me the masterwork of Pinget's novels. The format of 'The Inquisitory' is entirely question and answer revolving around the transcription from a retired butler or servant who throughout the text of the book is being interrogated by some nameless authority who has the power over him to demand answers to everything it asks. As we go deeper and deeper into the book the sometimes reluctant and embattled and flustered old man fleshes out not only every room in the chateau he formerly worked at for many years--painting by sculpture by knickknack, chair by table by loveseat, item by item, but also glimpes into the lives of those for whom he formerly worked (as it turns out 2 gay men), but also their friends and acquaintances, the other servants--branching also out to other local people and the small towns and villages that surround the chateau--characteristics being drawn on a wide variety of different people in the past and observations being made on landscapes and landmarks--descriptions of streets, shops, taverns in the surrounding villages and towns. Pinget literally creates through his mouthpiece of an old servant several towns and occupying them with all kinds of people in a variety of occupations including those who are criminal and/or political. Behind all this is a mystery brought about by the disappearance of his employers' former secretary and an apparent coverup by a group of prominent citizens with a somewhat satanic agenda. A fascinating and unique book and very entertaining. Probably the closest book I could compare it to would be Perec's--Life: A user's manual. IMO one of the best books published in the French language in the 20th century. ( )
2 vote lriley | Aug 29, 2006 |
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