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This report is taken from PN Review 26, Volume 8 Number 6, July - August 1982.

M. Butor's Landlady David Arkell
One of the most unhappy Frenchmen ever to reach these islands must have been Michel Butor, the author of L'Emploi du Temps, the celebrated nouveau roman about Manchester.

As Dr F. Whitehead has remarked, M. Butor writes of a Manchester transformed into something that Mancunians will hardly recognize: a forbidding dark wood in whose mazes the hero wanders disconsolately. 'The air is tainted with sulphur, and the River Slee (no doubt a transcription of the Medlock stagnating between warehouses) traverses it like some stream of Hades. Few novels convey better the loneliness of the stranger in a strange land.'

Although M. Butor taught for two years at the French department of Manchester University, his ex-colleagues seem unwilling to be drawn on the subject. The furthest one of them would go was: C'était un personnage plus près de Kafka que de Proust.

It is therefore pleasant to be able to record that, in the course of writing a fascinating thesis for the same university, J. B. Howitt made a remarkable discovery: Butor's landlady.

Readers of M. Butor's novel will remember her as Mrs Grosvenor-named apparently after the author's favourite cinema, the Grosvenor, still just standing at All Saint's. In the book she is so reactionary that, though she has been warmly recommended by the hero's black friend, the latter prefers to stay out of reach for fear of incurring her righteous wrath: he knows only too well that to her he is just another ...


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