The Fire Within

NYRB Classics. Dec. 2023. 144p. tr. from French by Richard Howard. ISBN 9781681376219. pap. $15.95. F
Inspired by the 1929 suicide of Dadaist poet Jacques Rigaut, La Rochelle’s 1931 novella presaged the fate of its author, a veteran of World War I and a disillusioned Nazi collaborator whose third attempt at suicide in 1945 was successful. Alain Leroy, a prematurely aging roué with a heroin addiction, returns home to his overly indulgent sanitarium after an unsatisfying tryst, newly resolved on a cure: death. Setting out to make the rounds of old friends, lovers, socialites, and denizens, he observes the futile commotion of their lives and his own insensate anomie with “the distant, derisive tenderness of a dead man.” Richard Howard’s eloquent 1965 translation captures every exquisite twist of Alain’s graceful spiral into despair as he attempts to shake the stubborn habit of survival, affirming his quizzical musing: “Perhaps there was a great deal of life in Alain’s rejection of life?”
VERDICT Twice adapted to film by Louis Malle in 1963 and Joachim Trier in 2011, La Rochelle’s courageous plunge into the void reveals itself to be, as Will Self suggests in his incisive introduction, an existential novel rivaling those of Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, and William S. Burroughs.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing