Epic by Pierre Albert-Birot
Translated from the French by Barbara Wright
First published 1921
English translation, 1986
Dalkey Archive Press, 2000
The fact that this book is almost totally forgotten seems to me indicative of the low esteem in which joy is held in this world. Nearly a hundred years ago, Albert-Birot was the publisher of SIC, an avant-garde review which published every famous name in Dada. When Grabinoulor appeared in 1921, it was praised by Apollinaire, Celine, Max Jacob and Raymond Queneau. I had never heard of it, despite reading fairly deeply in writing of the period. I found it by chance, lying in the stacks of a Galway book shop. Marvelous good fortune!
Grabinoulor is a mad picaresque tale, in 26 parts, one of them verse, with zero punctuation, about being young, omnipotent, and exceptionally horny. Written at the end of World War I, the narrator begins with an appreciation of his vigorous morning boner and proceeds at once to reshape Paris and the globe. I’m telling you, there’s nothing like this book -- which also means I’m rather helpless to describe it. If you’ve read Henri Michaux, think of the tales of Plume -- but now imagine that the protagonist, instead of being thwarted and trodden upon at every turn, is instead repeatedly victorious.
What sort of book is this? This is a book where the protagonist advises his grieving widowed friend to telephone Venus and ask her to send a Great Love at once and she agrees, calls up Venus right up. Venus immediately consents, asks for specifics (dark haired and well-equipped, please), and poof! Great Love appears at once. Everything is going swimmingly until the widow’s dead husband calls up from Heaven, where phones have recently been installed. Does this give you an idea? Or: in Chapter 19 of this book “a lobster mayonnaise starts the world going again.” Time and space are more playthings than obstacles and Grabinoulor usually gets the girl. It’s so much fun, engaging and readable, despite the atrocious typeface. Put on your reading glasses and surrender to happiness. Intended to liberate the soul, Grabinoulor still does the job, nearly a century later.
Reading Grabinoulor, I was surprised that it doesn’t have a cult following -- at least not in English. What a brilliant source text for painters, poets, song writers, animators, and film makers -- to say nothing of libertines and sensualists. When you’re fed up with despair, when you’ve had all the ennui you can bear, seek out the hero Grabinoulor. He’s spectacularly horny and out for a lark across the universe.