Violette Leduc's death last month was not accompanied by any of the usual obsequies reserved for Literary Figures. Genet has made no great show of his mourning: Stephen Spender has not lamented her passing in the New York Review: Wilfrid Sheed has not given her a page of print in the Times Book Review. I first learned of her death a week ago while reading a dated issue of Time in a doctor's waiting room. She was a rejected in death as she had been all her life.
No writer has communicated loneliness and despair more graphically than did Leduc. Her astonishing confessional quality, what Simone de Beauvoir called her "unflinching sincerity, as though there were no one listening", made her autobiographies. Le Batarde and Mad in Pursuit, at once fascinating and embarassing, forcing the reader into the stance of a literary voyeur, unable to put down the sordid but compelling story of her psychotic, unrequited passion for Genet, of her lesbianism, and her complete despair. No human being has ever been more lonely than Violette Leduc.
Her frankness and sincerity likewise characterize her other books--Therese and Isabelle. The Woman with the Little Fox, and The Taxi. This latest novel, written entirely in dialogue, appears at first as innocent as a children's story; a slim, airy volume decorated with whimsical sketches of a multi-colored taxi standing under childishly drawn trees. But there was no innocence in Leduc's life, and there is none in her art. The Taxi is a story of children, but it is no Petit Prince. Leduc's children are beyond their years in sophistication, their age of innocence informed with a deep worldly wisdom. The brother and sister, fourteen and sixteen years old, who are the speakers in Leduc's dialogue, have reached a level of sensuality unusual in most adults, and act out their desires in a well-planned ritual of incest for which they have spent months in practice.
Leduc's fantasies were intense and overpowering, whether they took the form of her novels or of her personal struggle for the affection of Jean Genet--a man who could not have been less interested in her. In The Taxi, she has brought her fantasy life to a new peak, acting out simultaneously the destruction of the incest taboo and the triumph of a form of Oedipal desire--during copulation the boy contemplates the destruction of his parents so that he may spend the rest of his life in the act of love with his sister. Leduc's talent and desire combine to form this juvenile fantasy into a novel.
Which is not to disparage the artistic qualities of The Taxi. At her most confessional, most obsessive, most uncomfortable points, Leduc was always a powerful writer. The Taxi is skillfully woven, tightly and eloquently written. There is not a spare word in the entire book, nothing out of place, never a sentence used where a word would do. Leduc was a master at achieving effects, and always produced exactly what she intended. By dispensing with all the boring conventions of story-telling and relying completely on dialogue. Leduc achieves her desired impact quickly, and with maximum impression.
The strength of The Taxi is in its unceasing juxtaposition of childhood and maturity, of innocence and corruption. While engaged in as unchildlike an act as any known to man, the two characters remain children: they pack a picnic lunch when they set out for a day of incest, they climb into the back seat of a taxi and tell the driver to take them on a sightseeing tour while they consummate their passion, they tremble in fear at their parents' wrath. The entire book seems suffused with the giggles of children discovering their sexuality for the first time. But, as always for Leduc, the things of childhood serve as a backdrop for the most unspeakable actions of adults. Even in the act of trying to recapture innocence, she taints it with guilt. She creates children on the point of emerging from the shelter of childhood, and plunges them into life at its darkest, like those Renaissance painters who depicted children as miniature adults.
The Taxi could well become a minor classic. It is passionate, articulate, and well constructed. But it also is the troubled product of a troubled writer, expressive of the confusion its author felt about her own sexuality. This book, her last, could serve as a good introduction to Violette Leduc. For her conflicting passions are summed up neatly in the dialogue of these two children, exactly the kind of children she herself would have produced.