Category: Jean Cocteau

book review – Les Enfants Terribles


There is something deeply disturbing about this story of two orphaned siblings. Along with the text there are images drawn by the author Jean Cocteau and these tend to add only a brief amount because they are line sketches that provide an impression but not much more for the reader.

But perhaps that is the idea – these are two figures that can never be caught – and for anyone who tries they are doomed to failure.

Driven on by their own rules and imaginary world the siblings Paul and Elisabeth start the story without a father and before too long are left without a mother after the bed-ridden woman dies of an illness.

The children hardly pause for their mother’s death because Paul is ill after having a snowball with a stone inside thrown at him by his school hero Delgado. There is a lot of hero worship throughout the book with Paul obsessing over Delgado and then his female lookalike Agatha. In turn Paul’s school friend Gerard seems to hang off every word of the siblings and is prepared to be with them when they run riot as part of the “game”.

The game appears to be something that is fundamentally devised by Paul and Elsabeth and the rules appear to be totally selfish with them excluding the outside world in order to entertain themselves. The game becomes one of stealing when they are on holiday with Gerard’s uncle and at other times concentrates on the siblings hurting each other’s feelings. The winner seems to be the one that leaves the contest with the last word, a sense of superiority and ideally having caused a display of angry frustration from the other.

But as they grow and develop into a man and a woman the inevitable happens and love comes between them. Elisabeth is first to get married to a wealthy young man who dies on his way to a business meeting before the married couple can even enjoy a honeymoon. The result of the marriage is that the siblings inherit a large house.

Inside the game moves towards its end. Elisabeth, who has worked in a store brings home another orphan and Paul falls in love with her. Elisabeth cannot stand to see her brother happy, but there is also an element of it being a game to see how much hurt she can inflict. She manages to bully Gerard, who is in love with her, into marrying Agatha and as a result helps break her brother’s heart.

Things go full circle and Gerard reintroduces the name Delgado into Paul’s life after he recounts a meeting with the man who now collects poisons. One of which he has sent as a gift for Paul. That poison is taken by Paul to end his life after writing of his love to Agatha. In a panic-stricken moment Elisabeth makes the mistake of leaving the two would be lovers together and they soon realise what the sister has done. In her final moments, knowing that Paul is dying, Elisabeth senses that this is yet another twist in the game and by dying he has beaten her to the final move. She shoots herself and by a matter of seconds beats him to it.

This is a book that is setting out an argument, although extreme, for a certain approach to life. No doubt what you are meant to feel some sense of admiration for two people who refuse to live by the normal rules of society and maybe you too have a longing to escape into the world of the game.

Maybe if I had read this when slightly younger I might have felt that. But as someone stuck very much in the grind of the nine to five the idea of two rich self-centred children flouncing around in an imaginary world is one that provokes a sense of cynical loathing rather than joyous respect.

This feels too contrived with the game being in some cases forced and without an end point. Keep playing the game into your 30s, 40s and 50s and it starts to look ridiculous. Death seems to be the only option for the siblings who refuse to grow up.

Version read – Vintage Classics paperback

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book review – Les Enfants Terribles


There is something deeply disturbing about this story of two orphaned siblings. Along with the text there are images drawn by the author Jean Cocteau and these tend to add only a brief amount because they are line sketches that provide an impression but not much more for the reader.

But perhaps that is the idea – these are two figures that can never be caught – and for anyone who tries they are doomed to failure.

Driven on by their own rules and imaginary world the siblings Paul and Elisabeth start the story without a father and before too long are left without a mother after the bed-ridden woman dies of an illness.

The children hardly pause for their mother’s death because Paul is ill after having a snowball with a stone inside thrown at him by his school hero Delgado. There is a lot of hero worship throughout the book with Paul obsessing over Delgado and then his female lookalike Agatha. In turn Paul’s school friend Gerard seems to hang off every word of the siblings and is prepared to be with them when they run riot as part of the “game”.

The game appears to be something that is fundamentally devised by Paul and Elsabeth and the rules appear to be totally selfish with them excluding the outside world in order to entertain themselves. The game becomes one of stealing when they are on holiday with Gerard’s uncle and at other times concentrates on the siblings hurting each other’s feelings. The winner seems to be the one that leaves the contest with the last word, a sense of superiority and ideally having caused a display of angry frustration from the other.

But as they grow and develop into a man and a woman the inevitable happens and love comes between them. Elisabeth is first to get married to a wealthy young man who dies on his way to a business meeting before the married couple can even enjoy a honeymoon. The result of the marriage is that the siblings inherit a large house.

Inside the game moves towards its end. Elisabeth, who has worked in a store brings home another orphan and Paul falls in love with her. Elisabeth cannot stand to see her brother happy, but there is also an element of it being a game to see how much hurt she can inflict. She manages to bully Gerard, who is in love with her, into marrying Agatha and as a result helps break her brother’s heart.

Things go full circle and Gerard reintroduces the name Delgado into Paul’s life after he recounts a meeting with the man who now collects poisons. One of which he has sent as a gift for Paul. That poison is taken by Paul to end his life after writing of his love to Agatha. In a panic-stricken moment Elisabeth makes the mistake of leaving the two would be lovers together and they soon realise what the sister has done. In her final moments, knowing that Paul is dying, Elisabeth senses that this is yet another twist in the game and by dying he has beaten her to the final move. She shoots herself and by a matter of seconds beats him to it.

This is a book that is setting out an argument, although extreme, for a certain approach to life. No doubt what you are meant to feel some sense of admiration for two people who refuse to live by the normal rules of society and maybe you too have a longing to escape into the world of the game.

Maybe if I had read this when slightly younger I might have felt that. But as someone stuck very much in the grind of the nine to five the idea of two rich self-centred children flouncing around in an imaginary world is one that provokes a sense of cynical loathing rather than joyous respect.

This feels too contrived with the game being in some cases forced and without an end point. Keep playing the game into your 30s, 40s and 50s and it starts to look ridiculous. Death seems to be the only option for the siblings who refuse to grow up.

Version read – Vintage Classics paperback

Lunchtime read: Les Enfants Terrible

The book ends in the double suicide of Elisabeth and Paul but until the very last second the game is in full flow and they go together to a place no one else can join them.

The end might have seemed inevitable from a pair of young adults who seemed incapable of moving on from childhood but it is hastened by the actions of Elisabeth. She is determined to break Paul’s heart by encouraging Gerard to marry Agatha and it is the later who wakens the sister to inform her that Paul has taken poison – ironically supplied by the person who hit him at the start with the snowball.

As Paul is dying Agatha nurses him and they realise what Elisabeth has done and her treachery is revealed. She panics and fetches a gun and then focuses in only on Paul. As she feels he has taken his dying breath she pulls the trigger but not before their eyes have met and the bond of the game has been sealed forever.

A review will follow soon on what has been a provoking read…

Lunchtime read: Les Enfants Terrible

Apologies still ill so this plus a review I had forgotten to post from earlier in the week when I was okay.

The mood between brother and sister changes for the worse with the introduction of love. Elisabeth gets married to a wealthy man who dies before their relationship is more than a few hours old and as a result the two siblings move into his fantastically large house. They start to recreate the ‘room’ at their old home on a gallery, which Paul encloses.

Gerard continues to love Elisabeth and Agatha and Paul discover that they love each other. For some reason – it seems to be more than just for the game – Elisabeth decides to kill any chance that Paul has of happiness with Agatha and tell him that it is Gerard she loves and then immediately afterwards order Gerard to marry the orphan.

The problem is that if she is discovered then it spells problems and even if she is not it seems hard to carry on as a loose foursome with the bitterness that unrequited love can cause eating away at the friendships.

More tomorrow…

Lunchtime read: Les Enfants Terrible

Still feeling very rough but managed to read a few pages in the doctors waiting room. Better than some leaflets about sexual diseases I can only ever fantasise about catching.

the first part of the book ends with Paul and Elisabeth joined not just by Gerard but by another orphan Agatha. The brother and sister are increasingly becoming creatures of the night playing ever more bitter games with each other.

Despite her being 19 and Paul being not too far off they both share the same room and Paul spends most nights getting naked. The whole thing feels uncomfortable and the boundaries that they jumped over on holiday stealing look like being smashed at some point soon.

maybe more tomorrow…

Lunchtime read: Les Enfants Terrible

The closeness of Paul and Elisabeth is odd enough but it seems to deepen after their mother dies.

Inbetween the brother and sister is Paul’s friend Gerard who informs Paul that his school friend Delgado, who had thrown the snowball at him,, has been expelled. Paul idolised the boy and so in one fell swoop he has no reason to want to go back to school.

The world of the brother and sister is now controlled by the Doctor and a nurse but they are also given the chance to exit their world by going on holiday with Gerard and his wealthy uncle. On the trip they start playing the game with the role the escalate from pulling faces to stealing. Increasingly the brother and sister are moving out of control.

More tomorrow…

Lunchtime read: Les Enfants Terribles

This book is incredibly descriptive but vague to start with on describing the nuts and bolts of the story. A playground incident where Paul is hurt by a stone in a snowball leads you into the home of the main characters – brother and sister Paul and Elisabeth – but it is far from clear.

What adds to the confusion is the idea that Paul and his sister are masters at something they term ‘The Game’ which from the descriptions seems to refer to the ability to roam at will around a very fertile imagination.

Paul’s father has dies and his mother is bed-ridden waiting for the grim reaper to arrive. The children are looked on with some pity and protection from the doctor who sees the mother but they sense that the future does not hold much in store for them.

The immediate future for Paul is to stay off school while he recovers from his injuries and that is where chapter one ends leaving the reader full of detailed images of Paris in the snow but none the wiser to quite what the future holds for the relationship of Paul and Elisabeth.

More tomorrow…