Exquisite Corpse Hardcover – Mar 3 1995
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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.