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The Holy Terrors

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3.76  ·  Rating details ·  5,236 ratings  ·  325 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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Kevin Hi :). That quote is actually from a Bresson movie called Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne. Jean Cocteau wrote the dialogues.

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Warwick
Oct 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: france, fiction, paris

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
...more
Mariel
Jan 02, 2012 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
Scribble Orca
Oct 20, 2013 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
[P]
Dec 20, 2015 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
Steve
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
...more
Cody
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Trump Reviews The Classics

How about this Jean Cocteau, am I right? What a talent. Fantastic with the movies, the books...the drawing and coloring. Incredible. What an American! I said to Jean the other day at Mar Lago, I said, "Jean, you're a real mensch, even if you have a broad's name!" We both got a kick out of that, me saying the Jew word. Can you imagine? Anyone seen my numbers with the Jews? Amazing. 99.73% of the Jewish voting people chose Trump. The Jews love me.

You all know Ivanka? Wha
...more
Paquita Maria Sanchez
May 07, 2010 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.
Dannii Elle
Dec 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Room provides the nexus for the Game, which excludes the outside world and demands the utmost devotion to its twisted rules. Its players, siblings Paul and Elisabeth, use it as both saviour from reality and to enact vengeance through their play. Later characters are added into the gameplay, but not as equal participants, as they first believe, and instead as props to enhance both the daredevilry that the Game increasingly demands and to propel them all to a chilling yet inescapable end.

The G
...more
MJ Nicholls
Jul 14, 2012 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? ...more
Fede
Oct 24, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, french
Ugh.

I can't help but wonder whether this book, had it been written by anybody else, would be so praised in spite of its shortcomings. No doubt Cocteau's name made - and still makes - the difference, but I'm too keen on overthrowing such golden pedestals to accept this as a value per se.
In short, here's another holy cow I'll be just honoured to turn into a lot of juicy meat. Or bloody pulp. That would be even better.

This is a book that wants to be many things and doesn't succeed in being anyth
...more
Nicole~
Dec 28, 2013 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
...more
Nate D
Mar 15, 2011 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
...more
Tara
Dec 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1001-list
“Paul closed his eyes. Intolerable vistas yawned before him, with Dargelos vanishing down all of them, Dargelos forever elsewhere, irrevocably absent from the future. The pain was too sharp.”

4.5 stars. Exquisite prose, engaging plot, charmingly vicious characters—this thing was practically perfect in every way. Highly recommended.
James
Feb 17, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Lavinia
Mar 13, 2009 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.
Matthew Appleton
153rd book of 2020.

Well, not what I was expecting. I wonder if the translation is to blame for the utterly bizarre writing style—the whole novel was oddly written, almost clunky. I’d probably put money on the fact this inspired McEwan’s The Cement Garden. And I’ll put more money on the fact that a certain somebody in the novel who dies in the most unusual way (their scarf wrapping around the wheel of their automobile and strangling them instantly) is inspired by Isadora Duncan’s 1927 death (two
...more
knig
Apr 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: quirky, dream-like, 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 w
...more
Kyle
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
Actual rating: 2.5

Not impressed.
The story of a severely tempestuous and co-dependent brother and sister, Elisabeth & Paul, orphaned following their mother’s death, slowly devolves into chaotic isolation, one in which drags down with them two others, Gerard & Agatha. As the four swirl around each other in the atmosphere of The Room— a space wherein they dwell; more-or-less, an unhinged realm where they enact The Game: a dysfunctional and totally mad, well, Game. I felt nothing for any of the char
...more
Vanessa
Nov 23, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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,
...more
Andrey
Dec 31, 2007 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.
S̶e̶a̶n̶

With concise prose that borders on perfection, Cocteau describes a sibling bond of mystical proportions thriving on childhood's intricate magic, and the blunt club of encroaching adulthood destined to destroy it.
James Tingle
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

When I read this about ten years ago, I remember feeling really uneasy the whole way through and almost a bit spooked by this strange novella. The children play this game among themselves, almost living within the realms of their own imaginations permanently and become obsessive and a bit deranged by their fantasies. It's one of those books that leaves you feeling unsettled by the end and a bit bemused as it's quite obscure as well, but I really quite liked it for these reasons as novels that ca
...more
Kirsty
Mar 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: march-2017
I purchased Jean Cocteau's Les Enfants Terribles for two reasons; firstly, it looked fantastic, and secondly, I thought that it would be an interesting inclusion for my Reading the World Project. The novel in its Vintage edition has been faultlessly and lovingly translated by Rosamond Lehmann, a Virago author whom I very much enjoy in her own right.

Cocteau the man was a fascinating figure by all accounts, and is recognised as important in many fields; he was a poet, a novelist, an artist, a musi
...more
Inderjit Sanghera
Feb 14, 2015 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
Marc
Jan 30, 2010 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
Feliks
Feb 24, 2018 rated it liked it
It's a kind of book which is impossible to produce in the modern age; therefore the kind you have to search back decades to discover; the kind you hunt back through many tomes of French and British 'belles-lettres' expressly to find relief from today's incessant babble. This is one of those books like 'The Little Prince' or 'The Velveteen Rabbit' which rewards that craving; which provides respite from all our daily jargon, acronyms, and buzz. There's nothing like refreshing power of plain, direc ...more
RB
Dec 05, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a 3.5, rounded down.

So, the book. In "Les Enfants Terribles", Jean Cocteau spends the first thirty-or-so pages casting a spell over the reader, with lush, beautiful descriptions of the setting while setting up most of the lead players. There's not much plot, but a whole lot of atmosphere. I've read some comments where readers complain that these characters don't show much care for characters in their lives who die: welcome to opium addiction. The cold, distant, lacking-in-emotions feelin
...more
Emm
Jan 29, 2011 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
Keith
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
For me this was a bit patchy in following the story between the many additional characters that came and came and came and went and came, and, went (the penultimate ending shocked me); my interest flowed like a 🌊 on this one.

I read because of my interest in The Dreamers - of which I'll read next, wanting to read about the inspiration-piece beforehand - here's to a decent story, albeit a bit jumbled-up throughout, a classic and legendary status may it continue to hold; 🍷!
R.K. Cowles
Jun 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
4 1/2 stars
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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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“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.” 55 likes
“A child's reaction to this type of calamity is twofold and extreme. Not knowing how deeply, powerfully, life drops anchor into its vast sources of recuperation, he is bound to envisage, at once, the very worst; yet at the same time, because of his inability to imagine death, the worst remains totally unreal to him. Gerard went on repeating: "Paul's dying; Paul's going to die"' but he did not believe it. Paul's death would be part of the dream, a dream of snow, of journeying forever.” 16 likes
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