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Passacaglia by Robert Pinget

Passacaglia—Robert Pinget (translated from the French by Barbara Wright)

Paperback/97 pages/ 10.95/ ISBN 0-87376-092-1

The Master ruminates on the death of an idiot who lived with him, for which he may or may not be responsible, and on his own death. He rehashes events with his friend the doctor, and in his notebooks. His ruminations form the “passacaglia” or recurring melody of the book.


“The object of Passacaille is to exorcise death by magical operations with words. As if the pleasure of playing with the vocabulary could delay the fatal tissue.”

“Don’t bother too much about logic: everything in Passacaille is directed against it.”

Robert Pinget in a letter to his translator Barbara Wright


“Passacaglia is an intense, somber, and moving work.”

John Updike The New Yorker


“…the deficiency of his sources is one of many recurring complaints voiced by the narrator of Passacaglia. But he keeps at it, working at what he calls his 'accumulations of straws in the wind.' He has to keep at it: He is nothing more than a voice…to stop is also a death."

John Sturrock, The New York Times Book Review


So calm. So grey. Not a ripple in view. Something must be broken in the mechanism, but there is nothing to be seen. The clock is on the mantelpiece, its hands tell the time.

Someone in the cold room must have just come in, the house was shut up, it was winter.

So grey. So calm. Must have sat down at the table. Numb with cold, until nightfall.

It was winter, the garden was dead, the courtyard grassy. No one would be there for months, everything is in order.

The road up to it skirts some fields lying fallow. Crows fly up, or are they magpies, you can’t see very well, night is about to fall.

The clock on the mantelpiece is made of black marble, it has a gold-rimmed face and Roman figures.

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