Patrick Nichols's Reviews > The Royal Way

The Royal Way by André Malraux
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's review
May 20, 2012

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bookshelves: fiction
Read from May 20 to 23, 2012

The red glint on his shoulder flickered; he had made an unseen gesture in the darkness. A puny gesture, as puny as the little human speck whose feet were hidden in shadow, whose fitful voice floated up into the starry depths. A mans' voice, lonely and remote, poised between the shining sky, and death, and darkness; yet in it there was something so inhuman that Claude felt as isolated from it as he would have been by incipient madness.

Yeah, so this is definitely a french novel. If you are turned off at the thought of two grown men obsessing over Death as relentlessly as a hypochondriac, then this is not for you. I suspect Camus (Malraux's #1 fan) coined the idea of the Absurd just to get the French to shut up already about death and get on with their lives. Of course Camus also loved the romance of Malraux's life, the way he got caught up in all those revolutions and world-historical events. Now, of course, we know that Malraux was just making it all up (though Man's Fate is still as fine a fabrication as you could want), and was more a master of self-aggrandizing B.S. than a bona-fide adventurer.

There is some truth to this novel, at least; like the protagonist, Malraux got his start travelling in Indochina and, ahem, plundering tombs to get rich (perhaps he acquired his taste for the morbid here). But the authenticity does add some heft to the narrative; he depicts the actual mechanics of dismantling a Buddhist temple with a remarkable verisimilitude. More importantly, he draws upon these memories to lavishly and luridly conjures up the seething immensity of the junge. This is where the prose really shines; he is able to find the poetry even in the experience of sticking your hand into a big wad of bugs.

But it's a pretty entertaining story if you enjoy a little philosophy now and again; unlike Sartre or Camus at least his characters get out of the house once in a while.


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