The Devil in the Flesh and Jules et Jim
Raymond Radiguet and Henri-Pierre Roché were both part of the avant-garde set in Paris in the early years of the twentieth century, mixing with the painters, poets and pioneering film-makers of the period. But whereas Roché went on to become an art dealer and journalist in New York and lived to nearly eighty, Radiguet died tragically early at just twenty, having contracted typhoid fever after a holiday with Jean Cocteau. He was already a literary sensation by the time of his death: his first novel, The Devil in the Flesh, had been a great succès de scandale on publication in 1923, as notorious for its author’s age as for its racy subject matter. Recounting the illicit love affair between a teenage boy and a young wife whose husband is away fighting in the First World War, the novel continues to shock with its unflinching depiction of sexual jealousy and possessiveness.
In contrast to the teenage Radiguet, Roché didn't write his first novel, Jules et Jim, until he was in his seventies (it was later made by Truffaut into the famous film). But like his precocious compatriot, his story centres on the complications of a love triangle. Roché's lovers are Jules, short and plump; Jim, tall and thin; and the capricious Kate, with a smile the two friends have decided to follow forever.
Despite their focus on love, the two novels couldn't be more different. The Devil in the Flesh is a coldly brilliant dissection of the selfishness and anguish of young love; Jules et Jim is a rapturous celebration of bohemian love, life and passion. If it's hard to believe that The Devil in the Flesh was written by a teenager, it's equally hard to believe that a novel as fresh and youthful as Jules et Jim was written by an old man. Both books are absolutely wonderful, and very, very French - in the best possible way.Jessica Harrison
Editor - Penguin Classics
Story of a Secret State
In 1944 as the war still raged across Europe, Jan Karski published his war memoir in the US as a piece of virtuous propaganda. Karski wanted to write a book that wasn't only an expression of fact, but which was also emotionally and structurally compelling. There is little by way of conventional journalism, but it is an affecting, elegiac, and raw account of what it felt like, not only to be there, but to be entrusted and over burdened with a nation's mortal future.
Karski's passion and courage are movingly in evidence; but it is above all the gravity of his intelligence and his sober sense of responsibility, both for the Polish nation and for the Jews of Europe, that has won my admiration. Story of a Secret State has the immediacy of a war memoir, but also the breadth and authority one would normally expect from a major work of history written long after the events it describes.Alexis Kirschbaum
Editorial Director, Penguin Classics