Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: April 16, 2019
A King Alone
by Jean Giono, translated from the French by Alyson Waters, with an introduction by Susan Stewart
“The book started off entirely by chance, without even a character. The character was the Tree, the Beech, and the starting point—that was the discovery of a crime: a dead body turns up in the branches of this tree. There was the Tree; there was the victim; an inanimate thing, a corpse. Well, the corpse requires a murderer, that's clear, and the murder requires investigation. What I wrote was a novel about the investigator. That’s what I wanted to write, but it had to start with a tree that had nothing to do with the story at all.”
Such was Jean Giono’s account of how A King Alone came to be. The title alludes to Pascal’s saying “A king without distraction is a man full of wretchedness,” and the book is set in a remote Alpine village in the mid-nineteenth century. At its center is the enigmatic officer Langlois. In deepest winter, the inhabitants of a remote Alpine village mysteriously begin to disappear. Langlois comes from afar to protect the village and investigate the crime. Giono’s novel about a tiny community at the dangerous edge of things and a man of law who is ever more a man alone could be described as a metaphysical Western. It unfolds with the uncanny inevitability and disturbing intensity of a dream.
For Giono, literature and reality overlap the way that waves sweep over the shore, one ceaselessly refreshing the other and, in certain wondrous moments, giving it a glassy clearness.
—Ryu Spaeth, The New Republic
Giono’s writing possesses a vigor, a surprising texture, a contagious joy, a sureness of touch and design, an arresting originality, and that sort of unfeigned strangeness that always goes along with sincerity when it escapes from the ruts of convention.
—André Gide, unpublished letter, 1929