The Holy Terrors (Les Enfants Terribles) by Jean Cocteau

Date of Publication: 1929, New Directions

Translated by Rosamond Lehman (1955)

Number of Pages: 183

With original illustrations by Jean Cocteau

Synopsis (from back cover): Miss Lehman was able to capture the essence of Cocteau’s strange, necromantic imagination and to bring fully to life in English his story of a brother and sister, orphaned in adolescence, who built themselves a private world out of one shared room and their own unbridled fantasies. What started in games and laughter became for Paul and Elisabeth a drug too magical to resist. The crime which finally destroyed them has the inevitability of Greek tragedy.

Review: Having never even read Jean Cocteau’s poetry, I was completely unprepared for this disturbing story. It starts out innocently enough, with a childhood snowball fight, but the reader is soon enveloped in the fantasy world created by Paul and his sister Elisabeth. But as they grow older, and their competing magnetic personalities enslave their friends, they find themselves almost completely removed from reality and heading toward disaster. Paul and Elisabeth and neither likable or unlikable…they seem to be completely above our likes and dislikes.

This book is a fairly quick and easy read, but it’s still rich in its language and with unforgettable characters. It should also appeal to a wide range of readers. Anyone who enjoys French literature, psychological drama, Shakespearean tragedies, or fantasy fiction will really enjoy this book.

Rating: 9/10

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