Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Yves Navarre – Cronus' Children

The late French writer Yves Navarre was prolific throughout the 1970s, producing a number of novels and works of drama. Critically acclaimed and much discussed during his lifetime, he is probably now best remembered for the novels A Share of Time, Sweet Tooth and Cronus’ Children. His career was halted for some time when he suffered a stroke in 1984. After returning to France from a few years spent in Montreal, he developed depression and committed suicide in 1994, cutting short a period of greater creative output. He had been awarded the Academie Francais Prize in recognition of his body of work only two years earlier.

Navarre was born in Condom in 1940. In 1971 his first novel, Lady Black, was published. In addition to various dramatic works, he wrote numerous novels, including Les Loukoums (1973), Le Petit Galopin de nos corps (1977) and Portrait de Julien devant la fenêtre (1979). The latter two novels both involved love affairs between male characters, a subject that Navarre, himself a homosexual man, frequently explored in his work, in addition to associated issues, such as AIDS (the focus of his 1992 novel, Ce sont amis que vent emporte). Instead of resorting to sensationalist sexuality, Navarre often emphasised sensuality and psychological elements in his portrayal of relationships. Cronus’ Children, for which he won the 1980 Prix Goncourt (under its original French title Le jardin d’acclimation), is not only an impressive work in its own right, but serves as an excellent introduction to Navarre’s preferred subject matter and literary techniques.

The novel focuses on the Prouillan family and their acquaintances, who are unable to escape the influence of the father, Henri – the murderous ‘Cronus’ of the English title. They share a common guilt regarding the lobotomy that the youngest brother, Bertrand, was given in an attempt to rid him of his homosexuality. The operation instead leaves an imaginative, academically successful young man a cripple, ostensibly put out of sight and out of mind when taken from Paris to the family’s country residence. The day of Bertrand’s fortieth birthday is also the twentieth anniversary of the return from his disastrous operation, the crucial moment in which his siblings, horrified by their father’s actions and guilt-ridden by their previous unwitting complicity, left the family house in Paris for good.

Over the course of this day and the following morning, every one touched by that event – the father, children, old servant, their aunt, and the family who care for Bertrand – becomes the centre of focus. Far-flung and in vastly different circumstances, the upsets that occur to each of them on this fateful anniversary lead them to meditate on past and present, revealing the different layers of these characters and their very human weaknesses and emotions. From these multiple different pieces, a complex, even tragic portrait of a family emerges, which makes one ask just how much we are the product of our family, and whether it is ever possible to break those early connections. A cleverly structured novel, full of detail, strong imagery and insight, it is a highly accomplished work.


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