- Publisher: Grove Press (1969)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0571251544
- ISBN-13: 978-0571251544
- Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.6 x 21.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 340 g
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
Funeral Rites Paperback – 1969
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From the Back Cover
Genet's sensual and brutal portrait of World War II France unfolds between the poles of his grief for his lover Jean, killed in the Resistance during the liberation of Paris, and his perverse attraction to the collaborator Riton. Elegiac, macabre, chimerical, it is a dark meditation on the mirror images of love and hate, sex and death. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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As the book opens, Genet's love-object--a young resistance fighter also named Jean--has just been killed and buried. There are extended early passages about the dejection Genet feels; he states that "the book is completely devoted to the cult of a dead person with whom I am living on intimate terms." However, Genet questions whether the 'Jean' to whom the book is dedicated is the dead man or himself, and soon refers to him as "my poor Jean-in-the-box" and thinks of him as "changing into fertilizer." Eventually Jean becomes something of an afterthought, as Genet turns away from the dead towards his lust for the living.
The conversational, episodic plot concerns Genet's interactions with the remaining members of Jean's family, as well as with German Erik, former Hitler Youth member and current tank-driver for Hitler, and youthful French traitor Riton, a collaborator with the Reich. Genet presents an awesomely entwined branch of relationships: Genet and the dead Jean; Genet's casual friendship with Jean's brother Paulo, who is both Hitler's and Genet's lover in Genet's fantasies; Giselle, Jean's steadfastly bourgeois mother, is Erik's mistress and keeper regardless of his Nazism; Erik and Riton are physical and emotional lovers; Erik, who clearly gets around, is also the submissive lover of Hitler's massive, unnamed, ax-wielding executioner; unattractive Juliette, Giselle's despised housemaid, is Jean's former fiancé; and Genet and Erik also become sexual partners in time, and right under Giselle's roof.
Genet adds another layer of complexity by having character 'Genet' transform mid-scene into the characters he is describing. Genet briefly becomes Joan of Arc just before she is burned alive, and replaces Erik as the killer when Erik decides to murder an innocent country boy to establish his manhood. Genet also steps into other shoes during the erotic passages, metamorphosing into Hitler (who sends "his finest-looking men to death" because he can't bugger them all, Genet says) when the Fuhrer orders Paulo aside and rapes him, an act Paulo accepts flatteringly and actively responds to. The narrative also moves frequently backward and forward in time, and at least one murdered character (not Jean) shows up robustly alive after his death.
Unlike the later novels, few defensive statements are made about the sexual interaction between the men, who alternately accept male and female lovers without question, as if this were the natural state of things worldwide (though other men seem to be the sexual partner of choice). The tough men of Funeral Rites do not constantly challenge and tease one another about standing, dominance, and submission; instead, they seem to take sexuality in all its manifestations pleasantly in their stride. Erik openly makes love to Riton in front of his soldier comrades, none of which bat an eye; when two grave diggers conspire to rape a maid (Juliette?), they fondle and caress her but also reach for one another's hands under her skirt. ...
Funeral Rites is humorously obsessed with scatology and flatulence, using both as none-too-subtle weapons against the despised French middle class. In one hilariously protracted episode, Giselle, tired of waiting on chisel-faced Erik, retires to her room to "release her wind," only to find she's let fly with something more than she intended and that impatient lover Erik is entering her small, temporarily unventilated room. In another, a prison chaplain, hurrying to give last rites to 28 falsely-accused boys, finding himself in the outhouse without toilet paper, imprudently decides to use his hand, and is then suddenly confronted by God. Hardly a character in the book escapes breaking wind, wiping themselves, or anxiously wondering about the state of their anal hygiene. Genet tells of finding dried feces lovingly sequestered in the doilied, oaken drawers of the bourgeoisie, and, taking up a favorite motif, has 'Genet' hoping that he still genitally harbors some of dead Jean's crab lice. After having failed to crawl into Erik's sheltering and flower-bearing anal cavity, Genet uses his tongue to pinpoint the lice on Erik's back end which are bloated with his virile blood.
In addition, there are scenes of wanton cruelty that may disgust some readers, such as that in which starving Riton kills a cat with a hammer, but most of the material seems sensational and mischievous rather than offensive. ... More restrained and less indulgent that The Thief's Journal, if also less deeply felt, Funeral Rites is an excellent choice for new readers approaching Genet's work. Genet seems oddly more confident and hopeful about himself and mankind here, perhaps as a result of the emotional catharsis (as well as the victory) provided by the war. Highly recommended.
This being Genet, sex takes a prominent role in the novel - France's defeat in the war is portrayed as a sexual violation, and collaboration is equated with having sex with the Germans.
"Funeral Rites" is not so much a novel, more a prose poem in which Genet's focus changes frequently, often disconcertingly. At times it seems to have been written as a work of fiction, only to switch into a pseudo-autobiography. Genet relies hugely on the use of allegory - his characters are individuals and exemplars of their countries at one and the same time. It's not, therefore, an easy read but it is an interesting one.
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