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This review is taken from PN Review 58, Volume 14 Number 2, November - December 1987.

MORTMAIN Yves Navarre, Cronus' Children, translated by Howard Girven (John Calder), £11.95

The action of Yves Navarre's novel (winner of the Prix Goncourt for 1981 and now translated into English) takes place within the strict confines of twenty-four hours. It gives an account of the simultaneous activities of the widely-dispersed but still mutually-traumatized family of Henri Prouillan, who has been, at his finest hour, a French Cabinet Minister. He takes lunch and dinner with his sister Suzanne, widow of a famous playwright, and we are variously introduced to the activities of his four children: Luc, Sebastian, Claire and Bertrand. As with Ulysses, whose twenty-four-hour time-span and shifts of narrative perspective are, no doubt, the prototype here, simultaneity of events gives a convincing and lasting sense of the contemporary (especially the status of the family in modern society, in this case) but is also a means of investigating in full the personal and individual conscious or unconscious memories of the characters.

Writing, in one form or another, is a Prouillan family trait. Jean Martin, the playwright brother-in-law, has written a play entitled Collision, which is about to be revived after a run of almost Mousetrap proportions. It may be in some way based on the fatal car crash of his niece's husband. But he has written another, more mysterious play, Mortmain, based on the deeper family crisis around which the novel principally revolves. It is through a skilfully arranged web of written texts within the novel, unsent or unread letters or confessional private writing, that this deeper crisis is revealed. ...


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