The Impersonal Adventure by Marcel Béalu, translated by George MacLennan / ISBN 9781939663726 / small 144-page paperback with flaps from Wakefield Press
A disorienting, de Chirico–esque detective tale of curio shops and eerie antiquities, penned in France’s postwar trauma
A traveling businessman decides to tarry in an unnamed city, dons a new name and profession on a whim, and rents a room in a hotel on an island at the city’s edge. As he wanders through the streets of unvisited storefronts and offices, he encounters a strange constellation of characters: a sinister night watchman; his spiritual half-brother, the “professor”; and a mute beauty who quickly obsesses him. They in turn lead the narrator into labyrinths of crowded curio shops and secondhand furnishers where the secrets of the island lie buried behind armoires and delirium. As the narrator pieces together the drama at the heart of the abandoned quarter, he discovers missing elements to his own biography and the role he is to play as witness to tragedy.
Marcel Béalu’s novella, written in the 1940s but not published until 1954, peels away an oneiric banality to reveal doubled lives and secret stories. The Impersonal Adventure utilizes a dreamlike logic to translate postwar trauma, urban devastation and anxiety into a tale that unfolds in the empty streets and bric-a-brac shops of a de Chirico painting.
Marcel Béalu (1908–93) was a French poet and novelist who drew inspiration from German Romanticism and French Surrealism, but avoided schools of thought and autobiography. His work was distinct for its dreamlike qualities and has established him as a master of the French fantastique. He made his living as a hat maker (when he first met the poet Max Jacob, who took him under his wing), an antiques dealer, and then as a bookseller.