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This review is taken from PN Review 62, Volume 14 Number 6, July - August 1988.

SAINT AND COUNTER-SAINT Michel Tournier, Gilles and Jeanne, translated by Alan Sheridan (Methuen) £9.95

The French tend to be precise when labelling works of fiction. Gide waited until 1925 before he chose to claim he had written a roman. The terms roman, chronique, histoire, nouvelle, conte, récit give, as it were, the parameters within which the author wishes his work to be approached.

Michel Tournier defines Gilles et Jeanne as a récit, thus setting it in the tradition of René, La Symphonie pastorale and La Chute. A récit is monothematic, its tone dry, its preoccupation more with the tale told than with the way of telling. And Gilles and Jeanne, though apparently setting out to deal with the interweaving of Joan of Arc's destiny with that of Gilles de Rais, is really about the latter and his descent into appalling depravity. The tone of the narrative is factual, unemotional, drawing often on eye-witness accounts. There is little or no embroidery. The short tale moves relentlessly and with a certain detachment, showing what happened and attempting to explain why.

Joan appears, an ambivalent boy-girl, at the Dauphin's court and Gilles is struck by her beauty, innocence and purity. On horseback 'she did seem to glide along on invisible wings above the animal as it furiously pounded the earth with its iron shoes'. In conversation he learns that she only hears the voices of angels whereas he knows 'the Devil and his court . . . whisper obscure things in my ears.' Her 'mystical adventure' so entrances him that he says ...


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