ISBN: 0802151574
ISBN 13: 9780802151575
By: Jean Genet Anselm Hollo

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About this book

Querelle of Brest is regarded by many critics as Jean Genet's highest achievement in the novel- certainly one of the landmarks of postwar French literature. The story of a dangerous man seduced by danger, it deals in a startling way with the Dostoevskian theme of murder as an act of total liberation, and as a pact demanding an answering sacrifice.Querelle is a young sailor at large in the port of Brest. His abrupt senior officer, Lt. Seblon, records in an elegant diary his longing for the young man. The policeman Mario, who frames his mates for stealing from the Monoprix, covets him. The brothel keeper's husband, feels entitled to possess him. The murderer in hiding, whom he nourishes, embraces him. Even the madam herself, despite her dispproval of his kind, becomes Querelle's mistress. 'His elaborate constructed novel about a sailor in Brest who murders and allows representatives of authority, like policemen and ponces, to act out their sexual fantasies on him is continuously vivid and varied...To ignore it would be a kind of treason to culture one inhabits' PUNCH 'In spite of the quality of the rapaciousness and lust-the corruption by both the establishment and the outsider, the characters in Genet's books all share a burning, tempestuous passion to live. For them, to do good or evil is part of the human condition-and to sin is better than to do nothing, because it means to exist. On the final count, Querelle of Brest stands for a great cry of affirmation on the side of life' THE SPECTATOR

Reader's Thoughts


I read Querelle after finishing Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward (a must read), in which Steward tries for years to get his translation of it published in english, to no avail. Genet's book originally appeared in French in the 40's and Steward was simply too far ahead of his time in thinking that the subject matter would be accepted in the US. Steward, and several of his literary companions, shared a reverence for Genet and this book in particular….one going so far as to travel to Brest to hunt down every nook and cranny mentioned in the book that was still standing and accessible. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to finish Steward's bio and get my hands on a copy of it. That anticipation and the build up to it is, in large part, responsible for my reaction to the book and this review. In no uncertain terms I can say that the writing is beautiful, almost hypnotically poetic. Add to that a delicious cast of characters- murderers, thieves, whores, sex addicts, liars, convicts and voyeurs. Add also an appropriately dangerous setting- the sinister underbelly of a seedy, French, port town with all its hiding places, abandoned prisons, whore houses, dark alleys, bleak ramparts and deserted dockyards. Yes! The perfect storm I thought as I dove in and began turnning pages. (I could just see Jean Paul Belmondo with the collar of his pea coat turned up, lurking in the shadows.) Unfortunately, as I went along, I became increasingly aware that I was grasping for something in the book that wasn’t altogether there. I couldn't get a hold of a through line that compelled me to keep going, yet I did. Was it because of Genet's tendency to ramble off on philosophical tangents that constantly interruped the story line? Was it the result of a poor translation? My over-eagerness to 'get into it'? Whatever it was, I was left with an ambivalence, a disappointement that there wasn’t more to wrest from the experience. Finally, as with many things in life, I’m sorry to say that my disappointment in it was almost as great as my anticipation of it, and will quote the same sentence that another reviewer, below, quoted from page 255: “This book goes on for too many pages, and it bores us.”....probably not unlike this initerminable review, you're thinking.


"The movement arched his entire body and made his basket bulge under the cloth of his trousers. He had at that moment, despite his being cloistered, . . . the nobility of an animal which carries its whole load between its legs."


i'll quote directly from page 255. "this book goes on for too many pages, and it bores us."

Dominique Pierre Batiste

"Se brester, to brace oneself. Derives, no doubt, from bretteur, fighter: and so, relates to se quereller, to pick a fight"


What can one say of Genet? He was one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, without a doubt, and possibly the greatest writer working in the French language since Gide to address issues of male sexuality in an unconventional, discursive, manner. However, a lot of his fiction to me is rather depressing—droll even in places—and this book was no different, though it did offer more realism and tangible detail than some of his other works. The port city of Brest is one of the more-gritty cities of France, a place always associated mainly with two things: military might (as a naval base) and crime. Genet well understands this and paints the city as the central character of the novel. With the city taking the lead, everyone else brings up the proverbial rear: sailors, naval officers, madames, et cetera. Petty crime and crime grand, it's all here. I'd certainly recommend this book to anyone interested in Genet or 20th century French literature, but I will admit it left me wanting in places. To write a literary whodunit or fiction that desires for nothing more than to be true crime, I would look to Hawksmoor, the 1985 novel by the British writer Peter Ackroyd. While we may not want Genet to be P.D. James, at times the crime aspects could have been played for more interest than they were. Or, perhaps it's just my own personal taste: I will say it's a powerful work and lacks none of all that makes Genet great, I just couldn't get into it as I've always desired to get into Genet's work.If you can read French, do read it in the French. Also, I expect if I read it over again, it will grow on me. There's a lot that's wonderful about this book but it's also trucated to me in places, and almost seems rushed sometimes. Still, it's Genet and could be no other.

Philip Bardach

My least favourite Genet work I've read to date. After having read his autobiographical-ish novels, it's inevitable that this would've paled in comparison. With that said, it's leaps & bounds over most literature I'm fond of.


Well.. After 33 yrs or so of reading Genet.. I reckon he just doesn't do it for me anymore. The things that I probably found energizing when I 1st started reading his bks, the criminal philosophizing, is mostly tedious to me now. &.. the cocks.. oh am I sick of the cocks.. Do we really exist in a society where people can think of little else other than cock size? How boring. Big cocks & little minds. I saw the Fassbinder film based on this bk when it came out, around 1982. Id' already seen other Fassbinder films. I was interested in him as a major German filmmaker. I didn't like his "Querelle" at all. I remember it as being highly stylized in a theatrical way that was a total turn-off for my more experimental tastes. In fact, truth be told, I've never liked Fassbinder much ANYWAY. Too depressing - even his comedies are just grim reminders of how base & repulsive most people are to me. At 1st, when I started reading "Querelle of Brest", I was reminded, once again, of what a WRITER Genet is, of how carefully he puts his words together, of how 'poetically' (as so many others wd have it) he tells his tale of this murderous sailor. Above all, over & above being gay, over & above being a criminal, Genet was a WRITER. It struck me that I've never run across Genet being referred to as a "crime fiction writer". He's too 'flowery', too philosophical. But, in a sense, he cd be compared to Patricia Highsmith. Querelle cd be compared to her character Mr. Ripley. Both Genet & Highsmith give more psychology than most. When I started reading "Querelle.." I thought I was finishing reading the last of Genet, the one last bk of his I hadn't read - getting closure. Then I saw that he has a play I haven't read: "Splendid's". GROAN. I'm somewhat of an obssessive-compulsive, a completist. After reading "Querelle" will I actually read another bk by Genet? Not anytime soon.. In the end I'd say "Querelle.." was 'interesting', well-written.. but I probably didn't really like it. I found it so tedious so quickly that I kept putting off reading it but, OC that I am, I forced myself to read the whole thing. But, as w/ my reactions to Fassbinder's films, I just found myself sickened by the characters & not really that impressed by Genet's religious hard-on for this form of male 'culture'. I'm the enemy of the mindless mental traps that these characters wallow in. After I finished the bk, I watched the Fassbinder film again to cap off the experience. I think I hated it even more this time than I did when I 1st saw it. As I recall, "Querelle" was Fassbinder's last film. It was different from the earlier ones - more theatrical, less 'realistic': theatrical lighting, melodramatic music, narration, intertitles, obvious sets instead of locations, 'unrealistic' intellectual monologues in the mouths of assholes - that sort of thing. &, yet, I understood in 1982, & I still understand now, Fassbinder's treatment: it's (mostly) faithful to the bk, it's faithful to what sets Genet apart from most writers who might approach his subjects. Still, I hated it. It was so tedious, I kept being tempted to fast-forward thru it. I stopped it halfway thru & took a short nap. It was practically unbearable.. but I knew I'd be writing this & wanted the film fresh in my mind. Fassbinder did change a few parts. He has Querelle dress Gil as Querrelle's brother Robert when he sends him out to rob Lieutenant Seblon. That was an interesting touch, it tied the plot even tighter. I wonder what Genet thought about that? He was still alive when the film came out.


In other Genet books I’ve read the stories build out from some real experience of the author's. In Querelle the author weaves the story out of the whole cloth of his imagination. I found this approach somehow less satisfying.This metaphor-rich imagination treats readers to a steady rhythm of richly descriptive prose. Genet exhibits remarkable authorial control over his narrative, often intervening in it directly, and that, too, works nicely for his style. Though lacking a specific denouement, the final thirty-five pages are noticeably strong.But the plot feels like a sacrifice to the description, floating along too slowly in eddies of prose, and the story seems to drag a little in the middle. This plot is just thin enough to lose its thread, in fact, and I often didn’t know where I was in it. Characterization falls by the boards for the same reason. Genet goes on at length, and with too much repetition, about physical attributes. He depicts people descriptively, and thus externally. Although authorial control is Genet's strength, here it left me with little understanding of the many motives and personalities in play. The people in the book are too one-dimensional and hard to follow. Their over-the-top characterizations, though part of Genet's lush style, take caricature too much to excess and make it hard for readers to connect with the story. The minimal plot and surreal prose are part of the author's artistry. These devices work splendidly for many readers, who can easily be swept along on the intense verbiage, but it doesn't work so well for me. Again, I think that has to do with the difference between a narrative built of pure fantasy and one based in fact. Genet gets carried away if his feet aren't nailed to the ground, and sometimes even if they are.My advice: Read Querelle for its prose, but not its plot or characters.


Al contrario de la mayoría de las obras de Genet, Querelle no se basa en aspectos biográficos del autor. La trama es "sencilla" en el sentido de que funciona como una base sólida que sostiene el aspecto psicológico de los personajes, pero también podría decir que la trama es muy compleja debido a la elegante, perversa y alucinante prosa de Genet. Uno de los elementos que más me llamó la atención fue el papel que juega Brest, la ciudad portuaria francesa, en el desarrollo de la historia: burdeles, naves militares, callejones solitarios, galerones abandonados... la materialidad del espacio funciona como una lupa que nos permite ver con más detalle el mundo subterráneo de violencia, sensualidad, homoerotismo, traición y camaradería que pupula sutilmente de la mente de Genet.Como es característico de Genet, el héroe es siempre en cierto sentido, un antagonista. Querelle es masculino, es fuerte, es atractivo, pero está más allá de la redención. Los vaivenes psicológicos con los que Genet intenta analizar las acciones de Querelle es un aspecto que vale la pena resaltar


I must admit that the plot was really mixed, but maybe I just should consider it as Genet's artistic style. The book is written so wonderfully that I can forgive the confusion caused by the plot. I loved the language and the way Genet describes his characters and their thoughts. Not to mention that Querelle himself is quite perfect, being sailor and a murderer and all.One of the best GLBT-books that I've read.

Daniel Lee

Genet truly put the "literary" in "literary smut" with QUERELLE. The prose is exquisitely elegant, like his other great works--Notre Dame des Fleurs, etc.--but the eroticism within the text that doesn't cross into the pornographic despite its explicitness is where the real art lies.


The transformative power of murder. Narcissism as an act of spirituality. Very interesting but difficult to read (in the translation). The fact that it is racier than most of today's fiction while maintaining it's literary pitch is amazing. The fact it was written over 50 years ago is unbelievable. Not for the faint of heart.

Mikael Kuoppala

An intensely and beautifully erotic and poetically written novel that has its roots in existentialism.

Jerome K

Hmm... not one of Genet's best... Definitely not a good place to appreciate his work. I decided to read this after watching that strange Fassbinder film adaptation, which I thought was interesting until the totally anticlimactic ending. The novel has a similarly anticlimactic end. I don't know why this is is. Maybe Genet just ran out of paper.


Another lyric tale from Genet, featuring his twin obsessions of sex and death. Perhaps less transgressive than some of his other books, it’s still a beautiful read.

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