The Impersonal Adventure

The Impersonal Adventure

Marcel Béalu

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Translated, with an afterword, by George MacLennan / October 2022 / 4.5 x 7, 144 pp. / 978-1-939663-72-6

A traveling businessman decides to tarry in an unnamed city, dons a new name and profession on a whim, and rents a room in a mediocre hotel on the island lying at the city’s edge. As he wanders through the streets of unvisited storefronts and abandoned offices, driven by only a faded name and address penciled into a notebook, he encounters a strange constellation of characters: a sinister night watchman; his spiritual half-brother, the “professor”; and a mute, hairless beauty who quickly obsesses him. They in turn lead the narrator into labyrinths of crowded curio shops and secondhand furnishers where the secrets of the island lie buried behind armoires and delirium. As the narrator pieces together the fragmented drama at the heart of the abandoned quarter and its excess of antiquities, he discovers missing elements to his own biography and the less than fortuitous role he is to play as witness to tragedy.

Marcel Béalu’s novella, written in the 1940s but not published until 1954, slowly peels away an oneiric banality to reveal doubled lives and secret stories. The Impersonal Adventure utilizes a dreamlike logic to translate postwar trauma, urban devastation, alienation, and anxiety into a disorienting detective tale that unfolds in the empty streets and bric-a-brac shops of a Giorgio de Chirico painting.

Marcel Béalu (1908–1993) was a French poet and novelist who drew inspiration from German Romanticism and French surrealism, but avoided schools of thought. His writing was distinctive for its dreamlike qualities and established him as a master of the French fantastique. He made his living as a hatmaker (when he met the poet Max Jacob, who took him under his wing), an antiques dealer, and then as a bookseller.


“It’s a curious little adventure—and not entirely impersonal, with Béalu neatly contrasting the characters’ passions (much, and many, are very heated) with the dark, forsaken backdrop of the place.”
—M. A. Orthofer, The Complete Review

“Béalu‘s poetry was admired by Artaud and his legacy was secured in 1944 with his phantasmagoric novel, The Experience of the Night. But this little adventure is even better […] And brilliant'y translated by George MacLennan.”
—Martin Billheimer, Counterpunch

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