PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
News and Notes
Digital Access to PN Review
Access the latest issues, plus back issues of PN Review with Exact Editions For PN Review subscribers: access the PN Review digital archive via the Exact Editions app Exactly or the Exact Editions website, you will first need to know your PN Review ID number. read more
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Drew MilneTom Raworth’s Writing ‘present past improved’: Tom Raworth’s Writing
(PN Review 236)
Alejandro Fernandez-OsorioPomace (trans. James Womack)
(PN Review 236)
Kei MillerIn the Shadow of Derek Walcott 1930–2017
(PN Review 235)
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
Oxford University Press
Gratis Ad 1
Next Issue Kei Miller on poetry and volume control Parwana Fayyaz's Afghan poems Gabriel Josipovici bids farewell to Aharon Appelfeld Craig Raine plants a flag A.R. Ammons from two angles

This review is taken from PN Review 96, Volume 20 Number 4, March - April 1994.


When he was going blind somebody suggested to Sartre that he should use a dictating machine. The old man was shocked: you can't get three layers of meaning, he is said to have snapped, out of a machine. At a moment when many a fiction appears to bear at least the machine-marks of dictation, A Double Life is a highly written novel.

The hero is a French diplomat, Guy de Roumegouse, and the layered style cloaks the man like a cape of many linings. His recollections of his experiences in the Resistence, of his career, his wives and his women (prostitutes mainly) are embedded in narrative yet relentlessly analytical. Though full of incident, emotionally it is a dead life, written up with a chilled elegance, like a despatch from the tomb. The result is rich with the sap of suppressed feeling.

It happens that, having worked with French diplomats in Paris and other capitals, I can vouch for Guy de Roumegouse's existence as a type - for his intellectual humanity so to speak. Guy knows his job, in both senses. He compares his functions to those of Pia, his Roman prostitute friend: 'The wooing of colleagues and foreign dignitaries might be devoid of any emotional element, but it required the same frigid attentiveness which is the mark of the competent whore. Like a diplomat, Pia knew how to ritualise routine, so raising it to the level of a courtesy, or even a favour.' Fortunately Pia's ...

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image