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This article is taken from PN Review 63, Volume 15 Number 1, September - October 1988.

A Little Posthumous Prosperity: Raymond Roussel John Pilling

Valéry's dictum 'One is never done with Stendhal' seems no less apposite - always supposing one has been minded to begin - in the case of Raymond Roussel. The obvious differences between them are, admittedly, only marginally diminished by Roussel's prose style, which exhibits the imperturbable blandness of Stendhal's exemplary Code Napoléon. But with an author so sui generis comparison with almost any other novelist is compromised at source, and is useful only as an index of the extent to which Roussel deviates from all conventional expectations. This is surely one reason why otherwise adventurous and imaginative readers have recoiled from engagement with Roussel, and also why those who have persevered with him have sooner or later concluded that no terminal point is likely to materialize. Symptomatic of the problems confronting this latter group is the vexed issue of Roussel's demise. Having apparently accepted the need to seek a de-toxification cure in a Swiss clinic, Roussel was found dead on the morning of 14 June 1933, beneath a mattress thrust against the locked connecting door between two Palermo hotel rooms, the other of which was occupied by his lifelong (presumed Platonic) female companion. This bizarre dénouement still gives rise to debate, controversy and imaginative 'thanatography'. Thus far the most compelling meditation on the matter has undoubtedly been the joint but disparate venture conducted by the novelists Jean Ricardou and Leonardo Sciascia. In a typically Rousselian spirit of balancing wild fantastications with sober and exhaustive rationalizations (themselves approaching the border ...

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