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This review is taken from PN Review 21, Volume 8 Number 1, September - October 1981.

HUMAN PROPORTIONS Richard Cobb, Promenades (Oxford) £5.95

Richard Cobb's Promenades is difficult to review for several reasons. To begin with, one should ideally share Professor Cobb's deep and detailed knowledge of France, and the 'everyday life' breathing below the official version of its social history; and one should be familiar with the thirty or so 'novels of urban or regional populism' that form, loosely enough, the centre of the book: Béraud, Cendrars, Chevallier, Colette, Pagnol, Peyrefitte, Queneau, Radiguet, Rebatet, Simenon, van der Meersch. . . . He certainly makes one keen to read them. Moreover, it is a deliberately idiosyncratic, often anecdotal, sometimes mannered (he cheerfully confesses to 'self-indulgence') and always 'spoken' record, in the best spontaneous sense. Originally, the chapters were informal radio talks or lectures. If the book is episodic, it is because his purpose is to celebrate the richly local, the quirkily human, the individualistic and the episodic; that is, lives lived at a tangent, so to speak, off the circle of official historical generality. Equally, he bemoans the 'artificial collectivities' typical of our own age. His account is loaded with a sad realisation that much of what he celebrates and has participated in has gone; his novels belong to the 1930s and 1940s:

The definitive end of the regionalism of recognisable human proportions came with the end of the Fourth Republic, in 1958, and the imposition, from above, of vast economic and social units, devoid of human proportions and of an identifiable historical past.


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