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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Voyage of Horace Pirouelle

Philippe Soupault

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To purchase The Voyage of Horace Pirouelle

Title: The Voyage of Horace Pirouelle
Author: Philippe Soupault
Genre: Novel
Written: 1925 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 83 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Voyage of Horace Pirouelle - US
The Voyage of Horace Pirouelle - UK
The Voyage of Horace Pirouelle - Canada
Voyage d'Horace Pirouelle - Canada
Voyage d'Horace Pirouelle - France
Die Reise des Horace Pirouelle - Deutschland
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Wakefield Press
  • French title: Voyage d'Horace Pirouelle
  • Translated by Justin Vicari
  • With an Introduction by Jonathan P. Eburne

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Our Assessment:

A- : a small but powerful, very well-wrought work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
La Nouvelle Revue Française . 1/8/1925 Jean Prévost

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The complete review's Review:

       Tété-Michel Kpomassie's autobiographical account of An African in Greenland came out in 1981 (NYRB) but in The Voyage of Horace Pirouelle Philippe Soupault sent an African -- the eponymous chronicler, born in: "Monrovia, the capital of the Republic of Liberia" -- to Greenland and had him immerse himself in life there almost half a century before Kpomassie did the same.
       The Voyage of Horace Pirouelle is a slim work. In a Preface which author Soupault signs with his own name but that is already part of the fiction he writes about his friendship with Pirouelle, whom he got to know when Pirouelle was a law student in Paris. Pirouelle did well for himself and lived comfortably in France, going to work for one of his uncles in the food industry, driving a little two-seater, enjoying the company of first a Thérèse and then a Lili.
       Soupault sums up: "Horace was happy" -- profoundly so. Yet when Pirouelle visits him with big news one day it's not what Soupault is expecting: out of the blue, Pirouelle has decided to set out for Greenland:

     Horace was not leaving because of a disappointment in love, a gambling debt, or disillusionment. For hours he explained to me all the reasons he could not put forward. I understood that he was going simply to go. A true voyager, as Baudelaire once said. Like a lamp his heart was empty. He had no reason to remain in Paris and no motive for departing.
       But he also suggests:
The word "Greenland" signified mystery. Horace was still too young to disregard that call. Mystery and vertigo.
       So, age twenty-five, Pirouelle sets off, and the rest of the novel is then his account of his travels. He goes to live among the Eskimos. He moves in with one, first in a tent and then, in the winter, in an igloo ("built of stone covered with snow and sealskin"). Eventually he moves on, deciding to: "cross Greenland from west to east at the latitude of 80 degrees north", joined by a traveling companion, his friend Ikwah.
       Some two months into their journey they meet an old man living by himself -- Henri Simmonet, formerly: "the hagiographer and deputy head clerk in the Ministry of Public Works". They settle in there as well; Pirouelle does some more exploring but returns there; ultimately: "I believe I stayed with him for over two years" -- and then heads out again. His account closes with the end of his voyage, as he finally leaves Greenland.
       Pirouelle's account is presented in six chapters, and these are divided into short sections, the narrative, even when continuous, thus broken up and presented almost step by step. Pirouelle is precise in his descriptions but leaves it at a few essentials; there is little reflection, while he often jumps ahead in time from one scene to the next -- by hours, days, or even years. Nevertheless, his account is also evocative, conveying life in these various unusual circumstances he finds (and puts) himself in well, the essential emotionless of his attitude -- "Walking one night I suddenly realized that I was beginning to love him. I felt I had to leave. I left" is about as emotional as he gets -- working particularly well with the starkness of the life he and those he encounters live here.
       Soupault's Preface, and then the six chapters of Pirouelle's account, are each preceded by a set of two epigraphs. The second of these is a longer one: verse by Paul Éluard and Benjamin Péret as well as short passages from Jacques Maritain, Arthur de Gobineau, Frédéric Paulhan, Lautréamont, and Raymond Roussel. In each case -- even for the Preface -- the first epigraph, however, is attributed to author Soupault, and each is a variation, increasingly desperate, on him calling for: "A gratuitous act, please". This repeated plea, in conversation with the otherwise so largely neutral text, adds a nice tantalizing tension to it -- not least because while Pirouelle in any case seems to proceed in what is in many ways a kind of aimless way (though from the first -- getting to Greenland -- he really does have specific destinations and ambitions in mind), he rarely acts out truly gratuitously. Even the most shocking of his actions, such as an early confrontation with a local shaman, is a justifiable reaction. It is his casualness in the aftermath that is the most shocking part of that episode, as it is then in several later ones as well -- but, as Soupault's increasingly insistent pleas suggest, Pirouelle continues to fall short of the ideal of the truly gratuitous act.
       The Voyage of Horace Pirouelle is a very short work, but it's beautifully formed -- almost delicate in its careful (epigraph-including) conception (so much so that Jonathan P. Eburne's Introduction, while helpful, especially in providing context, both as to Arctic-region exploring and Soupault's life and work, is jarring alongside it).
       With -- rather than despite -- its personal and physical coldness, it is a lovely little book.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 October 2023

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The Voyage of Horace Pirouelle: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Philippe Soupault lived 1897 to 1990.

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© 2023 the complete review

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