If you look at the photograph of leading Surrealist artists and writers, taken in 1932 at Tristan Tzara’s, you will find René Crevel in the back row, and that is where he long remained. The others, including Andre Breton, Salvador Dali, and Paul Eluard, all seem to know what to do with their hands, whereas René Crevel is leaning forward, one hand placed for support on the shoulder of Max Ernst, the other on that of Man Ray. Born in 1900, the golden boy of the Surrealist movement, Crevel is perhaps remembered more for having killed himself than for his writings, though even in death he is surpassed by other suicides, by the revolver-brandishing Jacques Vaché, for instance, whose myth was sedulously fostered by Andre Breton. Why, then, has David Rattray chosen to publish now a translation of Crevel’s autobiographical novel, La Mort difficile, sixty years after its first appearance in...


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