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The Holy Terrors

3.79  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,433 Ratings  ·  182 Reviews
Les Enfants Terribles holds an undisputed place among the classics of modern fiction. Written in a French style that long defied successful translation - Cocteau was always a poet no matter what he was writing - the book came into its own for English-language readers in 1955 when the present version was completed by Rosamond Lehmann. It is a masterpiece of the art of trans ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published June 1st 1966 by New Directions Publishing Corporation (NY) (first published 1929)
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Nov 03, 2013 Warwick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, paris, france

When me and my sister were younger – like four and five, or five and six – we used to play these epic games in the back seat of our parents' car on long journeys. The car was a big old Citroën estate, like the vehicle from Ghostbusters, and the back seat folded down to form a huge play area (this was before anyone bothered about seat-belts in the back).

The games we played were incomprehensible to everyone but ourselves, and now we're older they've grown incomprehensible to us too. All I can reme
Feb 25, 2012 Mariel rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: it was really the silver age
Recommended to Mariel by: pretty little
I can see myself becoming part of the room. The two sets of grandparents in their big bed they never leave from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory appealed to me. I would have sat by their one-bed-fits-all and listened to them bicker. Words of wisdom, or in another conversation entirely, as was the case with one of the grandmothers. I don't need the chocolate (I didn't say I didn't want it!) but I need those grandparents and their world within a world (the poorest shack in the coldest town where ...more
Cette espèce de confort n'influençait guère les enfants, car ils avaient le leur et il n'était pas de ce monde.

(This kind of comfort hardly influenced the children, because they had their own and it wasn't of this world.)

Not of this world, truly.

Paul and Elisabeth, brother and sister, 14 and 16 years old at the beginning of the story, are an inseparable binary system with a satellite, Gérard, 14, caught fatefully in their gravitational well. Through a series of credible circumstances, Paul and
Scribble Orca
Oct 20, 2013 Scribble Orca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Scribble by: Gilbert Adair
Midsummer Night's Dream machinations (with a little Anthony and Cleopatra mixed in for good measure) between any two of Cathy and Heathcliff, Laon and Cythna, (oh why not throw in a few of the Greek Pantheon as well - although they did more than just mess with each other's minds and really, who cared back then anyway) shot in very sexy black and white and accompanied by a stunning selection from Vivaldi and Bach. Not long on ambiguity, plenty of nods to Freudian concocteauns, marvelous narration ...more
Dec 20, 2015 [P] rated it liked it
I thought the cliché that adults don’t understand children was untrue until I spent a year or two teaching. Having no young relatives, it was the first time I had been around them since my own childhood, and, more importantly, it was the first time I had frequent discussions about them with other adults. And I was astonished by how naïve the adults, in particular the parents, were, how totally, how greedily, they swallowed and regurgitated the idea that these kids were innocence personified, tha ...more
MJ Nicholls
Jul 15, 2012 MJ Nicholls rated it really liked it
Recommended to MJ by: Gilbert Adair
First, Cocteau’s sumptuous, surreal little pearl of a novella, in peerless translation from Rosamond Lehmann. Next, Gilbert Adair’s affectionate rip-off The Holy Innocents (spot the pun). Next, Bernardo Bertalucci’s film The Dreamers, with a screenplay by Gilbert Adair. Next, Gilbert Adair turns his screenplay (or re-edits his original novel) into a novelisation of The Dreamers. Not a dud in the bunch. An Olympic relay of sultry, challenging art. What better?
Paquita Maria Sanchez
May 17, 2010 Paquita Maria Sanchez rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
Reading this is sort of like floating up, up, up into the clouds of a beautiful, serene blue summer sky, then suddenly dropping dozens of stories and getting bashed into billions of bloody, mushy bits.
Dec 07, 2014 Nicole~ rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, france, cocteau
3.5 stars
A Bizarre Story-

In 'Les Enfants Terribles', Cocteau gives the reader a melodramatic view of adolescence, void of innocence and filled with darkness; a peculiar relationship between brother and sister of excessive indulgence, petulance, childish pettiness and selfishness. Paul and Elisabeth contrive and control their fantasy games in the 'Room' that cocoons them from the world, a place where they feel most alive - a comfort zone. Their individual existences are simultaneously symbiotic a
May 22, 2012 Emma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cocteau's velvet words are so beautiful, reading 'les enfants terribles' felt like little kisses on my brain.

Gorgeous sentence after gorgeous sentence took my breath away.The translation by Rosamond Lehmann is a work of art and cocteau's illustrations throughout the book a delight. The book is short at only 183 pages and i could have gobbled it up very quickly but....i took my time and (don't laugh) indulged in all things french and impressionist for the week (Debussy's syrinx even found its way
Apr 27, 2012 knig rated it really liked it
Shelves: dream-like, quirky, 2012
Bizarre Westermarck –defiant melodrama tuned in to the obsessive convolvulations of a brother and sister who transverse a wide gamut of other relationships but ultimately end up each others best playdate.

Orphaned through a stroke of magical surrealism, Elisabeth and Paul end up keeping house together as teens in 1920s Paris. Much like Pippi Longstocking lording it in Villa Vellikulla, Elisabeth and Paul, unencumbered by crass considerations such as money, schooling, or other boring quotidian wo
Mar 16, 2009 Lavinia rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009, fiction
A sort of surrealist reading. A love and hate experience of two orphan siblings (Paul, Elisabeth) which includes games (The Game, actually - their game) and plays that replace the real life. These games and especially the plays require partners and, mostly, an audience (Gerard, Agathe). And when the audience becomes too involved and the risk of intrusion in their inner word is too obvious, they are masterfully (and mischievously) removed.
May 04, 2015 James rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gay-fiction
This is a fantastic, surreal and artistic book, incredibly erotically charged, which explores the other, darker side of love. It is a story about a brother and sister, Paul and Elisabeth – without a father and with an invalid mother – and the different romantic obsessions that they have. At first Paul is obsessed with another boy, Dargelos, who looks very feminine. Paul becomes very ill when Dargelos throws a snowball at him that has a rock inside it, and Elisabeth looks after him. She is fairly ...more
Nate D
Mar 16, 2011 Nate D rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: readers, dreamers
Recommended to Nate D by: Writers No One Reads
Curiously-bonded siblings, freshly orphaned, retreat into a cloistered Game-life of their own making, which barely touches the outside world, but which may incorporate new players. Totally weird, poeticized use of language. Totally weird relationships. But it works.

The central obsession-immolation dynamic (these siblings are like an implicitly incestuous Wuthering Heights -- the center cannot hold and will take everyone else with it) is essentially obvious from the very start, but this is still
Nov 24, 2015 Vanessa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
2.5 stars.

I don't know. I have mixed feelings about this book I guess. Having the knowledge that the book was the basis for another book that was adapted into the movie The Dreamers (which I did enjoy) meant that I viewed the characters very much like the actors in these roles, and sometimes I found my unnecessary expectations affecting the way I perceived the characters and how the plot would develop.

For the most part, there isn't much of a plot to this book. Two siblings, Elisabeth and Paul,
Jan 30, 2010 Marc rated it it was amazing
I finished this short novel/novella (second read-through) earlier tonight. I have much I could say about it, but I feel that if I go into an in-depth analysis of the relationships between the various characters -- Elizabeth (or Lise, the passive-aggressive sister), Paul (her "weak" brother, with whom she shares a "strong physical resemblance"), Gerard (their friend, who is enamored with Paul), Dargelos (with whom Paul is enamored, and who, though off-screen most of the time, is key to the way in ...more
Aug 24, 2013 Tony rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES. (1929; Eng. Trans. 1955). Jean Cocteau. **.
This is the only work I have read by Cocteau, and might very well be my last. It is a short novel about the absurd lives of two children; a brother Paul, and his sister, Elisabeth. They live with their sick mother, who very early on dies and they are left alone. The two develop a weird relationship with each other that involves playing a ‘game’, never clearly defined, that mostly occurs within their ‘room’, that place in the house
Inderjit Sanghera
Feb 14, 2015 Inderjit Sanghera rated it really liked it
‘Les Enfants Terribles’ is Cocteau’s dreamlike account between two siblings, Paul and Elisabeth, and their fractious relationship. The novel and prose are imbued with a dreamlike and surreal quality and whilst some might point to the incestuous undertones between Paul and Elisabeth, but I am not sure if the story is about “sex” but more about the extremes of adolescent emotions. None of the characters, whether it be Paul and Elisabeth or the periphery characters who populate their lives are not ...more
Dec 31, 2007 Andrey rated it it was amazing
The book starts out as an innocent coming-of-age story but transforms itself into a macabre phantasmagoric thriller towards the end.

Breathtakingly beautiful Cocteau's style illuminates the themes of teenage friendship and love, jealousy and cruelty, his imagination creating grotesque and twisted but eminently fascinating and haunting images.
May 03, 2016 Reuben rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has reaffirmed my faith in the sl(e)ight. The language in this translation, though I'm sure through Cocteau's talent also, is cold, brooding, but understated. Everything is plainly written but murkily obscured. The plot is simple to follow, but the motivations, the emotions, less so. At the end I am left with no answers, but completely satisfied. This is because Les Enfants Terribles is not concerned with explanations, it makes no claim to be, it is concerned with characters, with Game ...more
Dolly Delightly
Aug 14, 2011 Dolly Delightly rated it really liked it
Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles is a book about “the mysteries of childhood” and one which could not have been written by a more appropriate contender as the phrase, in the singular, has frequently been used to describe Cocteau himself. Born on 5th July 1889 in Maisons-Laffitte, Yvelines, a small village a few miles outside Paris, into a wealthy and politically influential family, Cocteau left home at the age of 15. His father, a lawyer and an amateur painter, shot himself in his bed when C ...more
Feb 12, 2011 Emm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before reading this book, I really just considered Cocteau to be a french novelty who made some enchanting films. What an understatement! Coctueau's exploration of myth is so sophisticated and really provocative. Most notably I enjoyed his treatment of Plato's androgyne myth with the titular couple--the incestuous brother and sister. He also manages to capture that other world of adolescence, which he places between the realms of dreams and the imaginary, where the boundaries of death and life a ...more
Princess Becca
It feels odd to call this book a novel, or even a novella – the experience of it lays somewhere between fairy tale and myth. Jean Cocteau subtly sweeps his reader up into the tourbillon that is the story of Paul and Élisabeth, a brother and sister whose passion for one another goes deeper than romance, reason, desire or consciousness; like in a Greek tragedy, over the course of a few hours (as the fluidity of Cocteau's style and the brevity of the book make it a quick read) we are exposed to a s ...more
Mar 24, 2015 Deborah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 15, 2009 Amber rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-adult
I get the feeling that Cocteau started with one idea in mind and it slowly transformed, like the visions in his films, into something else.

Still, this is no bad thing. This entire novella reads like a kind of beautiful nightmare, full of strange images, menacing metaphors, and pre-Freudian psychologies.

What I liked best about it, though, was the pitch-perfect representation of child consciousness. Not idyllic, not angelic, not scatter-brained and lisping - but cunning, self-absorbed, trivial, co
Alejandro  Sosa
Oct 31, 2013 Alejandro Sosa rated it it was amazing
Cocteau is one of those writers that have been accused, according to his Paris Review interview, of being very corpulent. I think the 'corpulent police' are always on the look out for sentences appearing long, perhaps a semi colon instead of a full stop and these are people that just seem to govern our industries - pure pencil pushers. If you don't allow yourself to be taken on Cocteau's long and languid descriptions, details and digressions than one has missed the point. Cocteau has to take the ...more
Suad Shamma
Jan 15, 2016 Suad Shamma rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites, own, 2013, classics
When I read the synopsis of the book, I was highly intrigued and bought it on the spot. But when I started reading the first chapter of the book, I thought I had gotten stuck with the most ridiculous book on the planet.

The first chapter involves Paul getting hit with a snowball (with a stone hidden inside it) to the chest by his crush/obsession, the feminine-looking Dargelos. Apparently, Paul becomes so ill that he is bed-ridden and advised by the doctor not to go back to school - or leave the h
Literary Relish
Jul 09, 2013 Literary Relish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What did I hope for as I opened this slim edition? A deliciously existentialist, aloof, completely confunding French novella to kick start my je ne sais quoi. Happily that is exactly what I found. Eisabeth and Paul are a brother and sister coexisting in their own juvenile world or their ‘Game’ as they prefer to refer to it. Living in a two bed apartment in Paris with their sick (and therefore absentee) mother, the pair have an incredibly volatile, odd relationship, often forgetting themselves en ...more
I happen to have Les enfants terribles in both French and English and I have to say, for a book whose main strength is its writing, the English translation does a disservice to the original, since it’s more of a rewrite than a translation and strays inexplicably from the original text, robbing it of its musicality and rhythm. The French is graceful and nuanced, the English inelegant and overwrought. Short sentences run the risk of being lengthened into superfluous paragraphs and sometimes “enfan ...more
Mar 06, 2014 Zei rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"C'est la première fois qu'un roman envoie des enfants en enfer". Une phrase qui m'a subjuguée et menée à me saisir de ce livre de l'étagère de la bibliothèque et de le lire, tantôt d'une traite sans le lâcher pendant des heures, tantôt en boitant, à deux pages par heure.

Cocteau est un auteur à part, en lisant son oeuvre on a la ferme impression de regarder une toile se mouvoir et évoluer...telle une peinture de Dali, tiens!

Je le conseille vivement à tous ceux qui tombent dessus par le plus beau
Phillip Frey
Jan 24, 2015 Phillip Frey rated it really liked it
Good old Jean Cocteau; never know what to expect from him. The Holy Terrors (Les Enfants Terribles) is a solid read, with Cocteau having done his own illustrations. This story of a brother and sister leads to unexpected tragedy.
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Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau (5 July 1889 – 11 October 1963) was a French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, boxing manager, playwright and filmmaker. Along with other Surrealists of his generation (Jean Anouilh and René Char for example) Cocteau grappled with the "algebra" of verbal codes old and new, mise en scène language and technologies of modernism to create a paradox: a classical a ...more
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“What uniform can I wear to hide my heavy heart?
It is too heavy. It will always show.
Jacques felt himself growing gloomy again. He was well aware that to live on earth a man must follow its fashions, and hearts were no longer worn.”
“At all costs the true world of childhood must prevail, must be restored; that world whose momentous, heroic, mysterious quality is fed on airy nothings, whose substance is so ill-fitted to withstand the brutal touch of adult inquisition.” 38 likes
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