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Exquisite Corpse [Hardcover]

Robert Irwin


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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.

From Library Journal

A strange young man's search in postwar London for his long-lost love sums up this story. Caspar, a second-rate painter and founding member of the Serapion Brotherhood, a clique of self-described Surrealists, falls obsessively in love with Caroline, a merely ordinary office girl. Since reality eludes him, it is no surprise that Caroline fails to reciprocate his love and slips away. Caspar publishes his memoir as an attempt to reach her and to tempt her back. Although intelligent and fraught with narcissistic musings, offbeat philosophies, Freudian analysis, hypnotism, and even an orgy, this book holds interest primarily through its central mystery and dizzying blur of fact and fiction. Recommended for large fiction collections.?Sheila M. Riley, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

The obsession of a British surrealist with his muse, as the world teeters on the brink of WW II, furnishes the psychodrama in Irwin's (The Mysteries of Algiers, 1988, etc.) latest, but solid historical detail only adds lead to a tale already heavy with introspection. Caspar, one of the inner circle of the Serapion Brotherhood, London's surrealist group, recalls in his postwar memoir the glory days of the movement, days that began with a well-received exhibition in 1936 and ended with an orgy gone wrong in 1937. The period also marked Caspar's first and last contact with Caroline, a pretty petit-bourgeois typist who enters his world as he is led around town blindfolded--a typical surrealist outing. She poses for Caspar and enchants him, goes along on other outings, and even tells him she loves him, but it isn't long before she becomes restless. Desperate to hold her love, or at least to have sex with her, Caspar masters hypnosis, but Caroline, declaring herself pregnant by another man, flees when he tries it on her, never to be seen again. He searches, waits, and frets incessantly for her, then attends an orgy organized by the Brotherhood, hoping to be distracted, but is dealt another blow instead when the group's leader uses the opportunity to commit suicide. Institutionalized and given shock therapy, Caspar misses the coming of war and is released only after the Blitz is well underway. He spends the war happily turning out documentary-like paintings of bomb damage, and is even sent to Germany as the war ends to sketch the concentration camps, but life is still empty without Caroline, so he writes his memoir--and lo! its publication brings her to him again (a meeting he recounts in a postscript). The touches of madness here have merit; otherwise, it's a slow, confusing crawl through exotic scenery. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Robert Irwin studied Modern History at Oxford and taught Medieval History at the University of St. Andrews. In addition to Exquisite Corpse, he has written five other novels--including the classic The Arabian Nightmare--and is the editor of Night and Horses and the Desert: An Anthology of Classic Arabic Literature. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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