Synopses & Reviews
, originally published as Sur l'eau in 1888, is a book of dazzling but treacherously shifting currents, a seemingly simple logbook of a sailing cruise along the French Mediterranean coast that opens up to reveal unexpected depths, as Guy de Maupassant merges fact and fiction, dream and documentation in a wholly original style. Humorous and troubling stories, unreliable confessions, stray reminiscences, and thoughts on life, love, art, nature, and society all find a place in Maupassant's pages, which are, in conception and in effect, so many reflections of the fluid sea on which he finds himself happily but forever precariously afloat.
Afloat is thus a book that in both content and form courts risk while setting out to chart the meaning, and limits, of freedom, a book that makes itself up as it goes along and in doing so proves as startling and compellingly vital as the paintings of Maupassant's contemporaries van Gogh and Gauguin.
"Douglas Parmée's fresh new translation brings to light a book that, more so than any of his renowned short stories, shows Maupassant the man, as he might have been known to contemporary readers of his copious journalism in fin de siècle Paris. Recounting a short week spent yachting on the French Riviera, Maupassant's fictionalized memoir crystallizes the mixed motives that lead to so many of our vacations. He is at once cynical and Romantic; he is a misanthrope who can't get enough of man; he is a sophisticated raconteur who wants to talk to himself for a while." Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun
"In M. Guy de Maupassant's Afloat, there is a good deal that is graceful and suggestive, besides the strictly descriptive passages, in which the French writer's skill is always noticeable. The book records the indolent pleasures of a summer cruise from Antibes to Monaco in a little yacht, the Bel Ami (a decidedly significant name to persons familiar with M. de Maupassant as a novelist) and pictures of the coast, of smooth and squally days, reflections, philosophical and other, and a hundred pretty trifles of thought and diction are united in it. It is very light and very pleasant reading." The Independent (UK)
"M. De Maupassant writes thoughts such as were suggested by the rocking of the waves." The New York Times
"Maupassant describes very beautifully what he found essential in his cruise: the wind, the sounds, the odours, the mountains, the islands, and the effect they had on him and on his imagination...He can be compassionated, ecstatic about nature, jaundiced, cynical, arrogant, anguished. His diatribe against war is superb." Times Literary Supplement
"Maupassant is a heart-stopping writer. Like all the best travel books, Afloat embraces reflections on a variety of subjects unconnected with travel. It has spontaneity, gaiety and freshness." Daily Telegraph
"Maupassant's chronicle, which he describes, unconvincingly (and deliberately so), as 'inconsequential, unassuming, and badly composed,"' is a polished and professional work. This is not just a canny repackaging of circumstantial writings. It is a highly original description of a mind disintegrating under the weight of its own obsessions." Graham Robb, The New York Review of Books
(read the entire New York Review of Books review
About the Author
Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893), journalist, novelist, poet, memoirist, playwright, and short-story writer, was one of the most notable men of letters of nineteenth-century France. He was born in Normandy to a middle-class family that had adopted the noble "de" prefix only a generation earlier. An indifferent student, Maupassant enlisted in the army during the Franco-Prussian war staying only long enough to acquire an intense dislike for all things military and then went on to a career as a civil servant. His entrée into the literary world was eased by Gustave Flaubert, who had been a childhood playmate of his mother's and who took the young man under his wing, introducing him into salon society. The bulk of Maupassant's published works, including nearly three hundred short stories and six novels, were written between 1880 and 1890, a period in which he also contributed to several Parisian daily newspapers. Among his best-known works are the novels Bel-Ami and Pierre and Jean and the fantastic tale La Horla; above all, he is celebrated for his stories, which transformed and defined the genre for years. In 1892, after attempting suicide to escape the hallucinations and headaches brought on by syphilis, Maupassant was committed to an asylum. He died eighteen months later.
Douglas Parmée has translated works by Flaubert, Zola, Maupassant, Baudelaire, and Chamfort, among others, including the NYRB Classic The Child by Jules Vallès. He is a past winner of the Society of Authors Scott-Moncrieff Prize for French translation. A lifetime fellow of Queens College, Cambridge, he now lives in Australia.