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Exquisite Corpse [Hardcover]

Robert Irwin


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Book Description

March 3 1995 Contemporary English language fiction
Caspar is a mildly promising surrealist painter living in 1930s London, who secretly longs for the ordinary. He meets Caroline who seems ordinary enough until she vanishes. Caspar's obsessive quest to find her leads him into a more surreal landscape than any he could imagine. The dazzling interplay of fiction and fact-within-fiction is at the heart of this wondrous work of imagination from one of the most intriguing writers at work today.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Dedalus Ltd (March 3 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1873982860
  • ISBN-13: 978-1873982860
  • Product Dimensions: 22 x 14.8 x 2.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 422 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,962,484 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

Exquisite Corpse is a novel, a survey of World War II history, and a commentary on surrealist art, all in one; and due to author Robert Irwin's immense skill, it does a crackerjack job with all three. The story opens in 1930s England, where Caspar, an ardent devotee of surrealism, leads a happily bohemian life. He paints his mediocre pictures, meets with his fellow surrealists in the Serapion Brotherhood, and generally subscribes to the belief that the anarchy of surrealism will lead to liberation of the imagination. Then he meets Caroline, a woman so relentlessly ordinary that she is nothing short of exotic to Caspar. He falls instantly in love with her and for a time revels in her middle-class life: her job as a secretary, her passion for amateur theatricals, her shopping excursions into department stores. When Caroline disappears from Caspar's life, he is thrown into--dare we say it?--a surreal search for her that will take him to Nazi Germany, into a mental hospital, through the war years, and eventually into the concentration camps and out again.

Journeys such as Caspar's are often labeled picaresque, and indeed, if Don Quixote had been a surrealist, his adventures might have resembled these. What makes Exquisite Corpse so enjoyable is the confidence with which Irwin threads history and art criticism through this comic romp. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Like a conjurer, Irwin (The Arabian Nightmare) performs deft sleight-of-hand tricks with the concept of perspective in this brilliant and mischievous novel. A British surrealist painter named Caspar looks back at events between 1936 and 1952 and records a story of romantic obsession. The artist/writer considers his tale an "anti-memoir" because he distrusts his own memory, infected as it is by a hyperactive imagination. He begins by recalling his life in London, Paris and Munich during the 1930s, when he was deeply involved with a bohemian community of surrealist writers, artists and hangers-on dedicated to shocking bourgeois society out of its lethargy. Caspar's life changes dramatically when he falls in love with Caroline, a typist who quickly adapts to her "spiffing adventure" among the surrealists. (The large cast of fictional characters is augmented by a number of celebrities of the time, including Gala Dali, Paul Eluard and Andre Breton.) Caspar adores Caroline, paints her, even offers to abandon his art and go into business if she will only have him. She politely fends off his attentions; but, when she suddenly vanishes, he is devastated. Even time spent in a madhouse and his experiences during the war fail to diminish his obsession for her. Under Irwin's skillful touch, Caspar becomes the ultimate irony: an artist who lacks perspective and a surrealist devoid of any true appreciation for the absurdities of life. Irwin has fashioned a devilishly clever plot, masked it with an eccentric cast and a narrator of dubious authority, then enhanced the work with a prose style that is intelligent and crisp in its execution.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisitely surreal and filled with art! June 1 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Robert Irwin's literary masterpiece, Exquisite Corpse sends the reader into a surrealist world of deception and dreams. His use of informal language captures the tone of the novel completely and adds to the sincerity of the work. The creation process of art correlates with the progress of Exquisite Corpse as Caspar discovers his muse of inspiration, Caroline. The novel is a first person account of Caspar's life, sort of a journal kept through his most intruiging portions of life. As interpreted by Caspar, the reader is often challenged with the thought that perhaps Caspar is making up the story as he goes along. That perhaps none of his experiences are true and that he is a pathetic drunk trying to make some sense of his life through broken memories. Irwin's use of words and imagery create a new universe as seen through Caspar's eyes. His quirky friends and enemies all have the feel of opera characters--highly overexaggerated and overdramatic. As for Caroline, she has the feeling of a non-existent dream. Did Caspar dream her up or was she real? Was Caroline the embodiment of all of his desires and fears in life, the fear of rejection and the loss of love? Or was she a human being? Only the author knows the truth and we are left to figure out this mystery ourselves. Yet, what Irwin creates is a man, lost of all reason, lost in his thoughts and dreams, making up the perfect ending to his tired life of love lost and turmoil. All in all, Exquisite Corpse is a trip through the mind of a surrealist, mind you, it's not a smooth running course, but a course that has no boundaries whatsoever.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Beauty must be convulsive or not at all" - Breton Aug. 2 2001
By Seth A. Doolin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Irwin's Exquisite Corpse captures the spirit and verve of the Surrealist Revolution more comprehensively than any since Artaud or Lautremont. Those well-versed in Surrealist literature will not only appreciate the nudges, winks, and deftly dropped names, but also appreciate the taste of Surrealism in the 30s as tensions within the camp as well as with former allies such as the Trotskyists, French Communists, and Psychoanalysts are represented within the narrative. As a piece of historical fiction the power of this novel lies in Irwin's ability to take the constellation of events and tensions within Surrealism and with the world at large and internalize them in the character of Caspar. Those unfamiliar with Surrealism or the period may need to do some homework before approaching the novel, though. However, the extra work will be well worth the effort.
2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extreme Reactions July 21 2001
By "mentat327" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I think most people will have an extreme reaction to this book. You will really like it; you will really dislike it; or you will be really confused as to whether or not you like it. With a story that can evoke such strongly varied reactions, it is worthy of praise no matter what the result.
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite Aug. 2 2000
By Louisa - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is my favourite book, but i dont expect it to be great for everyone. You need to be in a certain mind set for it, although it's not incomrehendable. If you like surrealism, or odd love srories, you'll most likely enjoy this book. Although Casper is a surrealist, he is not annoying and does not dwell on boring topics. The book is not depressing either. The last chapter is also on of the best. I recomend this book to everyone whose favourite movie is Harold and Maude BTW (as is mine)

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