The back cover of this edition of COUP de GRACE excerpts a quote from a review by the writer- attorney Louis Auchincloss that I suspect is is in line with many readers response to this book.Auchincloss is impressed by Yourcenar's ability to capture post WW1 Lithuania.The thing is the book isn't set in Lithuania and doesn't have all that specific a feel to it.Bluntly , it could be set in 1890s Ruritania as easily as it 's actual setting ,which is Latvia- not Lithuania circa 1919(Auchincloss's error is inadvertently telling).The book is quite claustrophobic.Almost all of the action takes place in an isolated country house among a small group of people.You get little feel of a larger world ; let alone the nuances of any culture ,nation or time.
The two main characters are Erick and Sophie and there is no need to mince words about them, they are to say the least queer ducks.Erick is a German soldier who after WW1 goes to Latvia(I think Kurland or Courland) to fight against the Bolsheviks.He is of Balt(ethnic German) extraction and spent much of his childhood in the country.Sophie is someone he's known since childhood.She is the sister of a dear friend.They all wind up living in the same house.Sophie loves Erick.He does not love Sophie.One may think he should love Sophie but I think the key here is Erick is gay.The book doesn't quite say that but it comes real close.Rejected , Sophie in effect destroys herself in a manner that is simply depressing.The consequences of"limousine liberalism " being quite fatal in this civil war.
I will readily admit, what I have described sounds awful ! It isn't . This is a strange and ultimately gripping novel.It's characters are rather cracked but their destinies moving .Yourcenar is a writer who displays considerable psychological depth and her case studies wind up being compelling.Just avoid approaching this novel as a historical novel.It isn't.The sensibility here is is"symbolist" or "decadent" .It reminds me more of a Moreau painting than the RED BADGE OF COURAGE.