The Tutu - Leon Genonceaux

Atlas Press

$25.00

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The Tutu by Léon Genonceaux, translated and introduced by Iain White / ISBN 9781900565639 / 176-page hardcover from Atlas Press

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Had The Tutu appeared when it was written in 1891 it would have been one of the defining works of late nineteenth-century French literature. Juan Goytisolo is among its admirers, and noted that: “The Tutu has been described as the most mysterious novel of the nineteenth century, it is probably one of the strangest, and certainly one of the most fascinating… We find in it a clear presentiment (one cannot say influence, since no one read this book) of the audacities of Jarry, Roussel, Breton, Ionesco and Queneau…”

Its author, the publisher Léon Genonceaux (1856–?), is as much of an enigma as the two legendary enfants terribles whom he was the first to publish: Arthur Rimbaud and the Comte de Lautréamont. When he brought out The Tutu he was already in trouble with the police for “immoral publishing”, and realised that sending it to bookstores would certainly land him in jail. The book disappeared for nearly 100 years, and its author likewise — after 1905 nothing is known of him. Finally republished in the 1990s, The Tutu was hailed by reviewers as the bastard child of J.-K. Huysmans and Antonin Artaud.

Genonceaux appears to have been intent on outraging just about everyone, and The Tutu is gleefully Nietzschean in its dismemberment of contemporary morality. It is simultaneously a sort of ultimate “decadent novel” and outlandishly modern; it is also repellent, infantile and deeply cynical. Yet despite all its absurdities and extravagances, in the end it somehow manages to appear compassionate, poetic, funny, and even — most absurdly of all — rational.

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