I received this book as a Christmas present from my boyfriend. A brave move on his behalf, if you ask me as choosing a book for someone is never easy, especially when you’re branching into literature of a language that you don’t speak. However, he did pretty well, considering the book fits three categories of things I like: romance, war and french. I had never heard of this book before, nor had I heard the author mentioned, so I was intrigued to get stuck in.
I have to admit I was a little confused when I first began reading. For some reason, I had expected the narrator to be Marthe, who is mentioned in the blurb, and out of a lack of concentration, it had taken me a few pages to realise that it was actually Francois. However, once I had actually realised who it was narrating the events, I could start to form opinions on the characters.
I actually found Francois, the narrator a little irritating, which is, in some ways, a credit to Radiguet. He did truly appear like a lovesick teenage boy, whose youth was made clear through his neediness and naivety. I suppose that, given the circumstances of his love affair, one could hardly blame him for seeming emotional and needy- but that didn’t make it any less annoying, especially for the first part of the narrative. Having said this, Marthe was hardly a likeable character. She appeared to have no sort of conscience, and her selfishness was far too much to be able to overlook or excuse for any reason.
It was strange to read a book and not identify, or take a liking to, either character. I would say that that as the narrative progressed, I did become more tolerant of Francois, but perhaps more out of dislike for Marthe other than anything else. Even though the main turning point of the narrative, Marthe’s discovery that she is pregnant, is a necessary step in order to show each character’s ability to develop, it was a bit of a cliché problem in an illegitimate love affair. Keeping the novel’s age in mind, however, I suppose that it would have been less of a cliché, and more of a scandal.
Something I did like about the book was that it was very easy to read. As I have mentioned before, I appreciate a book with short chapters as it means I can dip in and out of the book, reading it when I have a spare five minutes, meaning I can finish it sooner than if I had to dedicate a large chunk of time each time I want to read! Also, in spite of the fact that I didn’t necessarily like the narrator, I did find Radiguet’s writing style very clear, which mean that I didn’t have to struggle with unravelling too much french syntax, which can often be a problem.
Even though I didn’t like either of the main characters, I would actually recommend Le Diable Au Corps for that very reason. It was the first time I have read a novel and this been the case, and it was actually quite refreshing. I also think that the novel would also be a good starting point for someone who wants to read more french literature, as the straightforward narrative and the author’s clear writing style, as well as the short chapters, means that it is not a challenging read.