Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ape

Overview

Like James Joyce's and Dylan Thomas's similar titles, Butor's novel is autobiographical in nature and explores the way a writer develops. Shortly after World War II a young man travels to a castle in Franconia housing the second largest private library in Germany. There he discovers a multitude of stimuli for his imagination: a castle once the site of celebrations and executions, the old library, mineral collections, rooms decorated in mythological themes, and an exiled count ...

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Overview

Like James Joyce's and Dylan Thomas's similar titles, Butor's novel is autobiographical in nature and explores the way a writer develops. Shortly after World War II a young man travels to a castle in Franconia housing the second largest private library in Germany. There he discovers a multitude of stimuli for his imagination: a castle once the site of celebrations and executions, the old library, mineral collections, rooms decorated in mythological themes, and an exiled count who has a passion for highly original games of solitaire.

Days are spent in the library steeping himself in the literature of alchemy, whose great theme was transformation. At night, the young man dreams he is in an adventure that begins as a vampire story and ends as a tale from The Thousand and One Nights, in which a young man is transformed into an ape.

Bordering between autobiography and elements of Gothic horror, this "caprice" shows the development as a young man of one of France's most important contemporary novelists during and just after World War II. Though as readers we have as hard a time as Butor himself in separating fact from fantasy, we see the young Butor on the edges of the intellectual and artistic circles of his time (Martin Heidegger and Andre Breton make brief appearances), but we witness this in an ominous, sinister atmosphere where we expect Dracula to step from around the corner at any moment, accompanied by Abbott and Costello.

Dalkey Archive Press

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A cunningly inventive novel." — Tribune Books

Dalkey Archive Press

"This excellent translation from the French of Michel Butor's autobiographical novella could not have appeared at a more timely moment. It might easily be placed alongside the recent 'autofictions' of other veteran New Novelists, Nathalie Sarraute, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Marguerite Durgaas, but Butor may be credited with originating the current literary trend of fictionalized autobiography in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ape." — Times Literary Supplement

Dalkey Archive Press

"Butor's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ape is, without a doubt, a strange brew, but it offers much to the reader who appreciates an author who refuses to color inside the lines." — San Francisco Review of Books

Dalkey Archive Press

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The ape of the title is (at least in part) Thoth, the Egyptian god of magic, the inventor of writing and the record-keeper of the dead. Magic, writing, death, Egypt and apes all come into play in Butor's experimental 1967 novel, now available in English for the first time. The narrator describes a life of study in Paris that is interrupted when a Hungarian professor commands him to speed to Germany to deliver a book to a mysterious poet (here think Jonathan Harker). Once there, he stays in the castle of Hwith the Count W. During the day, he peruses the collection of minerals and an impressive private library (including books on theosophy, alchemy and records of executions); in the evening, he plays bizarre, complicated variations on solitaire with the Count; and at night, he dreams. There is ``no way of detecting a lie or an error in the story of a dream,'' says the narrator, ``I prefer to deliberately reconstruct them.'' His dreams of a beautiful student murdered by a vampire who then transforms the narrator into an ape eventually mingle with stones, alchemy, executions and solitaire, all of them whirling around each other until dreams and reality spin out of control. Given the narrative chaos of the novel, it should come as no surprise that Butor is inevitably mentioned with the likes of Sarraute, Robbe-Grillet, Claude Simon and other practitioners of the nouveau roman. Although his experiments with structure and blurring the boundaries of reality are admirable, their novelty has worn thin and, unfortunately, what's left doesn't really compensate. (July)
Library Journal
A champion of the French nouveau roman, Butor here describes his development as a writer, but this novel does not resemble Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In post-World War II Germany, a young man visiting a castle's large private library finds much to stimulate his imagination: mineral collections, rooms decorated with mythological themes, a list of the executions that took place there, and a count who plays card games like role-playing games. Characters appear and disappear in dramatic ways, and at night the young man dreams he is an ape. The reader gets a surreal vision of everything and everyone in the colors of the mineral collection. This novel is entertaining, but it may be hard for the casual reader to follow. For literary collections.-Ann Irvine, Montgomery Cty. P.L., Md.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781564780898
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/1995
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 1
  • Sales rank: 1,018,660
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.52 (h) x 0.42 (d)

Meet the Author

Michel Marie François Butor was born inMons-en-BarÂœul. He studied philosophy at theSorbonne, graduating in 1947. He has taught inEgypt,Manchester,Salonika, theUnited States, andGeneva. He has won many literary awards for his work, including thePrix Apollo, thePrix Fénéonand thePrix Renaudot.

Dalkey Archive Press

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