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Colonel Zoo

Olivier Cadiot

Translated by from the French by Cole Swensen

Price: U.S. $11.95
Olivier Cadiot
Colonel Zoo
Series No.: 135
ISBN: 1-933382-54-6, Pages: 202
French Literature, Fiction

Is he a madman or the best butler you've ever had? Cadiot's zany first novel takes the British weekend house part paradigm and keeps shifting its terms. At this book's center is the enigmatic "I"—a butler headed for perfection or insanity—or perhaps both. With the impending Second World War as a background, the story, often funny and at times sinister, interweaves themes of servitude, espionage, escape, and, ultimately, victory in an unsuspected quarter.

Olivier Cadiot lives in Paris, where he has edited, with Pierre Alferi, Revue de literature générale. His other books include Futur, ancient, fugitif (1993) and L'art poétic', translated by Cole Swensen and published by Green Integer as Art Poetic' in 1999. Noted poet and translator Cole Swensen won the PEN American Award for Translation of Island of the Dead by Jean Frémon.
Also by Olivier Cadiot:
Art Poetic', Out of Stock

Book Review(s)


by Jeff Bursey

It’s difficult to determine what’s happening in Colonel Zoo, due to the fact that the narrator, a butler whose name may be John Robinson, is in service to the deranged and brutal M. at an unspecified time when minced brains, D-Day, Mylar, and neutron bombs all possess equal significance. M. shouts at his oafish and boring guests, a foot buried in the compote, and the conversation around the upstairs table is often tense, if not acrimonious. If M.’s irrational behavior is not, in fact, invented, then it makes perfect sense that he would employ a butler like the narrator, a cross between Ishiguro’s Stevens and a budding version of Harris’s Hannibal Lecter. Repeatedly, Cadiot sets up situations where the butler devises elaborate schemes—connected to fishing, safecracking, animal mistreatment, and various homicidal acts—that often turn out to be distinct from the assumed (by us) real world, yet true on their own terms. These reveries give the author a chance to stretch his imagination for our benefit, creating a character who can say “It’s true; if you start thinking of a pine as a pile of dead cows, it changes things,” and make us believe it momentarily, confined as we are within his wet, gray world. Yet the narrator’s manias, obsessions, and compulsions are too numerous, especially in such a short work. Paradoxically, this may be one of Cadiot’s purposes: to show that this figure’s ugliness—he has nothing to redeem him—is just another side of Everyman. The references to Mars, war, and weapons illustrate that this downstairs tyrant is as representative of the servant class as M. is of the aristocrats. Or else they’ve all eaten too much of the minced brains.

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