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This review is taken from PN Review 234, Volume 43 Number 4, March - April 2017.

Cover of The Crime of Jean Genet
Gregory WoodsOff-white
Dominique Edde
The Crime of Jean Genet
(Seagull, 2016) £14.50
JOE ORTON and his nemesis Kenneth Halliwell used to fall about laughing at the earnestness of Jean Genet’s erotic prose, apparently unaware that he too had a sense of humour. He was not writing for outsiders, nor even insider-outsiders like them. Although his publishers tended to market his books for gay readers, he said he would prefer them to fall into the hands of bankers and concierges. His filth was put on, performed for the sake of the properly shockable. (We can only guess where he’d have thought the defacing of library books came in the rank of mortal sins. Like Rimbaud, he was less interested in the sanctity of books than in the words they conveyed. He tore his favourite poems out of a borrowed Baudelaire.)

Mind you, readers of Genet have aroused enough accidental humour of their own, without his direct aid. The first essay on him I ever read (I still have my notes on it) was ‘Jean Genet and the Indefensibility of Sexual Deviation’ (1969), in which Philip Thody argued that ‘Genet’s homosexuals are unfaithful to one another because homosexuality is, of itself, a disappointing form of sexual activity’. That had the teenage me in stitches, as did his claim that Genet encourages ‘the ordinary person to congratulate himself on his normality’. I’d bought four of the novels before I left school, and seen one of the plays by then, Death Watch, thrillingly performed in our inter-house drama competition. I did several read-throughs of The Maids when I was a first-year undergraduate, with ...


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