Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: March 5, 2019
A King Without Diversion
by Jean Giono, translated from the French by Alyson Waters
This is the first English-language translation of Jean Giono’s 1947 masterpiece, Un roi sans divertissement, A King Without Diversion, which takes its title from Pascal’s famous remark that “a man without diversions is a man with misery to spare.” Giono’s novel is an existential detective story set in a snowbound mountain village in the mid-nineteenth century. Deep in winter, inhabitants of the village begin mysteriously to disappear, and Langlois is sent to investigate. A manhunt begins and Langlois brings the case to what appears to be a successful conclusion. Some years later, again in winter, Langlois returns to the village, now having been promoted to the position of captain of the brigade that protects the inhabitants and their property from wolves. Langlois is a charismatic and enigmatic kingly figure who fascinates the villagers he has been sent to protect, and yet he feels set apart from them and from himself, and as he pursues the wolf who is preying on the village, he identifies more and more with the murderer who had been his earlier target.
The splendid, tormented Langlois is very much at the center of the novel, but he is surrounded by a full cast of remarkable characters. There is Sausage, the “saucy” and “sassy” café owner; Frédéric II, the brave sawmill owner who tracks the killer; Ravanel Georges, an almost-victim of the murderer; the potbellied Royal Prosecutor with his profound knowledge of “men’s souls”; the murdered Marie Chazottes and her “peppery blood”; and an exotic woman from the “very high” places in Mexico who befriends Langlois and Sausage. In Alyson Waters’s outstanding translation the many voices in this wonderfully inventive and diverting novel by one of the most perennially popular of modern French writers come to brilliant life in English.
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—André Gide, unpublished letter, 1929