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Querelle of Brest (1953)

by Jean Genet

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8961120,579 (3.85)14
Set in the port of Brest, this book is the story of a young sailor and the evil and mysterious people whom he attracts. The author has also written Our Lady of the Flowers and Funeral Rites and was closely allied to the French intellectuals led by the late Jean Cocteau.
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English (8)  French (1)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (11)
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Well.. After 33 yrs or so of reading Genet.. I reckon he just doesn't do it for me anymore. The things that I probably found energizing when I 1st started reading his bks, the criminal philosophizing, is mostly tedious to me now. &.. the cocks.. oh am I sick of the cocks.. Do we really exist in a society where people can think of little else other than cock size? How boring. Big cocks & little minds.

I saw the Fassbinder film based on this bk when it came out, around 1982. Id' already seen other Fassbinder films. I was interested in him as a major German filmmaker. I didn't like his "Querelle" at all. I remember it as being highly stylized in a theatrical way that was a total turn-off for my more experimental tastes. In fact, truth be told, I've never liked Fassbinder much ANYWAY. Too depressing - even his comedies are just grim reminders of how base & repulsive most people are to me.

At 1st, when I started reading "Querelle of Brest", I was reminded, once again, of what a WRITER Genet is, of how carefully he puts his words together, of how 'poetically' (as so many others wd have it) he tells his tale of this murderous sailor. Above all, over & above being gay, over & above being a criminal, Genet was a WRITER. It struck me that I've never run across Genet being referred to as a "crime fiction writer". He's too 'flowery', too philosophical. But, in a sense, he cd be compared to Patricia Highsmith. Querelle cd be compared to her character Mr. Ripley. Both Genet & Highsmith give more psychology than most.

When I started reading "Querelle.." I thought I was finishing reading the last of Genet, the one last bk of his I hadn't read - getting closure. Then I saw that he has a play I haven't read: "Splendid's". GROAN. I'm somewhat of an obssessive-compulsive, a completist. After reading "Querelle" will I actually read another bk by Genet? Not anytime soon..

In the end I'd say "Querelle.." was 'interesting', well-written.. but I probably didn't really like it. I found it so tedious so quickly that I kept putting off reading it but, OC that I am, I forced myself to read the whole thing. But, as w/ my reactions to Fassbinder's films, I just found myself sickened by the characters & not really that impressed by Genet's religious hard-on for this form of male 'culture'. I'm the enemy of the mindless mental traps that these characters wallow in.

After I finished the bk, I watched the Fassbinder film again to cap off the experience. I think I hated it even more this time than I did when I 1st saw it. As I recall, "Querelle" was Fassbinder's last film. It was different from the earlier ones - more theatrical, less 'realistic': theatrical lighting, melodramatic music, narration, intertitles, obvious sets instead of locations, 'unrealistic' intellectual monologues in the mouths of assholes - that sort of thing. &, yet, I understood in 1982, & I still understand now, Fassbinder's treatment: it's (mostly) faithful to the bk, it's faithful to what sets Genet apart from most writers who might approach his subjects. Still, I hated it. It was so tedious, I kept being tempted to fast-forward thru it. I stopped it halfway thru & took a short nap. It was practically unbearable.. but I knew I'd be writing this & wanted the film fresh in my mind.

Fassbinder did change a few parts. He has Querelle dress Gil as Querrelle's brother Robert when he sends him out to rob Lieutenant Seblon. That was an interesting touch, it tied the plot even tighter. I wonder what Genet thought about that? He was still alive when the film came out. ( )
  tENTATIVELY | Apr 3, 2022 |
I read a Spanish translation of the 1947 original with Jean Cocteau's drawings at the end. The story is quite brutal. From the beginning it was clear that the translator must have had a monumental task translating it. It is very interesting to read how men who have sex with men, even those who think of themselves as straight, are full of contradictions because of the morals the society imposes.

I read it after having read "The Secret Historian" and I would have loved to have read Samuel Steward's translation into English.

There is something immemorial about prostitution, men having sex with men, murder, theft, sexual domination, the transitory nature of sailors, the forbidden love because of the constraints that societies impose in its members when it comes to sexual practices. Samuel Steward, as many others, experienced most of these.

I had seen the movie 40 years ago twice in a row at the cinema and recently on dvd. I think this interfered with my reading of the book.

Nevertheless, the book is very lyrical. I suggest to watch Jean Genet's only movie, Un chant d'amour (1950), which in 25 minutes illustrates the kind of world quite well. ( )
  txoritxu | Oct 6, 2020 |
I was taken aback by this book, mainly because it was so original. It challenged me, which is always welcome. Still, I found the amount of sex distracting from the other stuff; that's on me. Still, it's a breath of fresh air, even 60 years on. ( )
  pivic | Mar 23, 2020 |
Jean Genets "Querelle" ist reich durch ein spezielles Erzählverfahren. Die Frage, ob es sich um den Typus eines autobiographischen Romans handelt, sollte sekundär sein. Primär ist der Roman "Querelle" ein Text, der den/die Leser/Leserin bravourös mit der Dialektik von Identität und Alterität konfrontiert. ( )
  SvenKoblischek | Jun 13, 2015 |
The world of Querelle is immoral, erotic, and steeped in secrets. The prose is consistently poetic and sensual, alternately directed by characters lost to immoral behaviors and characters hiding from their own desires. And then, of course, the characters are all surrounded by sex and murder, if not directly engaging in both.

The back of the edition I own notes that the word "deals in a startling way with the Dostoevskian theme of murder as an act of total liberation", and the reference to Dostoevsky may be why I bought this book in the first place (I no longer remember)...but either way, Genet's treatment of murder is too similar to his treatment of sex to be taken as a totally separate conversation: both are incredibly personal acts, and sensual because of the hand-to-hand connection between bodies, and both are revelations of power carrying or denying their own unique brands of shame and guilt. One of the fascinating things about Querelle, though, is the shame that he (and others around him) feel regarding their homosexual acts even as he feels no shame about violence and general immorality (unrelated to sexuality). Some of the horror of the novel comes from the outright violence, but some also comes from the fact that all of this rings true: it isn't hard to imagine how contemporary society could leave someone feeling absolute guilt about their sexuality, and none for their violence, though (in my eyes) it should be something nearly unimaginable.

In the end, Genet's writing is intoxicating, and his descriptions luxurious and believable. At times, his style reminded me of both Dostoevsky and James, but the story of Querelle is something else entirely. Yes, this graphically violent and sexual...but then, maybe there's all the more wonder in that since it is also a beautiful novel that seems, unlikely as it is, to still reveal what is good. ( )
1 vote whitewavedarling | Dec 18, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Genet, Jeanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bakker, MatthijsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Streatham, GregoryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Uecker-Lutz, RuthTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Set in the port of Brest, this book is the story of a young sailor and the evil and mysterious people whom he attracts. The author has also written Our Lady of the Flowers and Funeral Rites and was closely allied to the French intellectuals led by the late Jean Cocteau.

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