Jean Genet’s Querelle de Brest

Querelle de Brest Illustration by Jean Cocteau
Querelle de Brest Illustration by Jean Cocteau

This simply astonishing tour de force performance of theatre and poetry twisted into an incredibly tightly knotted/plotted novel unfolds like an extended wild, mesmerizing erotic dream.

In one sense a simple murder/crime novel, Genet’s saturation of every sentence be it thought or action with sex generates intense power, and with what will be for some readers still in this day and age the most violent and heinous obscenities you’ve ever seen in pages of august literary classics of the 20th century.

But it’s not merely sordid. Genet’s highly stylized evocations of psychosexual dynamics, along with the shit and blood and sweat, joy, elation, obsession, affection, and need, which achieve both a specific particularity/realness and a level of myth/dream at the same time, reveal a vibrant and generous humanity underlying and redeeming (or sanctifying) this grossly amoral tale.

It must truly be one of the great works of art of the twentieth century.

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