Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: December 7, 2021
The Flanders Road
by Claude Simon, translated from the French by Richard Howard, introduction by Jerry Carlson
On a sunny day in May 1940, the French army sent out the cavalry against the invading German army’s Panzer tanks. Unsurprisingly, the French were routed. Twenty-six-year-old Claude Simon was among the French forces. As they retreated, he saw his captain shot off his horse by a German sniper.
This is the primal scene to which Simon returns repeatedly in his fiction and nowhere so powerfully as in his most famous novel The Flanders Road. Here Simon’s own memories overlap with those of his central character, Georges, whose captain, a distant relative, dies a similar death. Georges reviews the circumstances and sense—or senselessness—of that death, first in the company of a fellow prisoner in prison camp and then some years later in the course of an ever more erotically charged visit to the captain’s widow, Corinne. As he does, other stories emerge: Corrine’s prewar affair with the jockey Iglisia, who would become the captain’s orderly; the possible suicide of an eighteenth-century ancestor, whose grim portrait loomed large in Georges’s childhood home; Georges’s learned father, helpless against barbarism among his books. The great question throughout, the question that must be urgently asked even as it remains unanswerable, is whether fiction can confront and respond to the trauma of history.