Henri Guigonnat - A domestic cat grows to the size of a St. Bernard; the family nurse hides a huge bushy tail of her own beneath her petticoats

Henri Guigonnat, Daemon in Lithuania, Trans. by Barbara Wright (New Directions, 1985)

«Here is a book that is elegant, good-humored, innocent, perverse, poetic, funny, extravagant, and philosophic. Then appears the cat Daemon! Gentle reader, not a demon but manifestation of the spirit the ancients supposed presided over their most secret intentions.»

«First published in 1974 in France, Daemon in Lithuania has all the elements of a particularly nasty nursery rhyme. A domestic cat grows to the size of a St. Bernard; the family nurse hides a huge bushy tail of her own beneath her petticoats; a kindly uncle not only sharpens his teeth into points, but occasionally sinks them into the neck of Max-Ulrich, the young boy who narrates the story. Max-Ulrich's home is a neo-Gothic castle in Lithuania (or at least he thinks it's Lithuania), where he is surrounded by his grandmother Casimira, grandfather Emeric, sister Kinga, and Daemon, the ''she-cat'' who came through an attic skylight and rules over the household with an iron paw while she grows to an astonishing size. There is a hint of political allegory in Daemon's power-mongering. She is blindly worshiped (literally - the entire family is myopic), and her admirers gradually take on her qualities. However, Henri Guigonnat seems less concerned with government than the perverse human psyche. The book's epigraph quotes Djuna Barnes, who says children ''like Red Riding Hood and the wolf in bed.'' Mr. Guigonnat includes plenty of similar sexual suggestions, a few rather grotesque. But his deadpan style is unbeatable, and it is well served by Barbara Wright's fluid translation and Erika Weihs's illustrations, which are appropriately reminiscent of Edward Gorey's. In the end, Max-Ulrich comes to regard all the strange goings-on as dreams that enrich our experience of ordinary life - a conclusion the reader is likely to draw too.» - Laurel Graeber


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