Martin Guiney , Kenyon College. Boris Vian, France, avant-garde, avant-garde novelists, twentieth century, J'irai cracher sur vos tombes, I Will Spit on Your Graves, American, , Black American author, Vernon Sullivan, American pulp fiction, art, political commentary, J'irai, masochistic ambivalence, Americanization. Boris Vian is today considered one of France's foremost avant-garde novelists of the twentieth century, but in his lifetime he was known to a wide audience as the author of one work: J'irai cracher sur vos tombes I Will Spit on Your Graves , a pastiche of American hard-boiled fiction which he published in under the name of a fictitious Black American author, Vernon Sullivan. Vian died twelve years later of heart failure while viewing the film adaptation, which he had no part in producing.
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Where to start with a figure as ambiguous, talented and controversial as French author Boris Vian? But let's start at the beginning. In late Vian announced that he had found the perfect American novel to kick-start his friend's new publishing house Editions du Scorpions.
He claimed that J'irai cracher sur vos tombes I Shall Spit on Your Graves was his translation of an underappreciated young black author whose work was banned in his native country. Vernon Sullivan, it was claimed, was now an expatriate, living in France to escape racism and censorship in the US.
Vian wrote the book in a two-week burst, and concocted the story of Sullivan as a way to get it published. It is the story of Lee Anderson, a black man whose white complexion allows him to cross racial barriers. He is hiding out in Buckton, a small southern town, after the lynching of his brother. Working in a secondhand bookstore, he is soon hanging out with the teen crowd, indulging in lots of breathlessly described sex with teens whose breasts are "firm to the touch, like ripe plums", and using his worldliness to his advantage.
When he sets his sights on the beautiful daughters of a local plantation owner, a plan for terrible revenge against the society that murdered his brother is put into action. He sleeps with both sisters, turning them against each other and humiliating them, before the scene is set for an orgy of violence. Despite the unpleasant synopsis, the book is funny, scatological, and neither endorses nor condemns its characters.
At first we sympathise with Anderson, then we are repulsed by him, as his desire for revenge turns him into a bloodthirsty psychopath. All we are left with as a final image is his erection, still sticking out of his pants, as he hangs from the lynch mob's rope.
In France, the book quickly found itself the centre of some unwanted attention. A moral watchdog The Cartel d'Action Sociale et Morale, which was responsible for getting Henry Miller's work banned in France denounced it, generating lots of sales-fuelling publicity. It was soon the most talked about book of Vian cranked out three more books that year in a similar vein, including The Dead All Have the Same Skin Colour, a book that turned I Shall Spit's concept on its head, by having a white protagonist who could pass for black.
This book too culminates in rape and murder, and Vian mockingly chose to name his protagonist after the head of the Cartel d'Action Sociale et Morale, Daniel Parker. The original book proceeded to grow even more controversial, being linked quite directly to a real-life murder. A man had strangled his mistress, and left an open copy of the book on the bedside table with the following passage circled and underlined: "I again felt that strange sensation that ran up my back as my hand closed on her throat and I couldn't stop myself; it came; it was so strong that I let her go The book went into reprints and sold more than , copies, but the case against it had gathered too much momentum: Vian was tried for translating "objectionable material" funnily enough, the author was still nowhere to be found , fined , francs, and in the summer of the French government banned further sales of the book.
The book was something of a curse for Vian. After the court case, his reputation was considered somewhat unsavoury, and it wasn't until after his death that his books started to creep back into print. He had already disowned the film, and asked to have his name removed from it. Ten minutes into the film, Vian is reputed to have sneered, "These guys are supposed to be American?
My ass! In many ways, it is the kind of absurd twist of fate that could well have spilled from the pen of the great man himself Topics Books Books blog. Reuse this content. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. Threads collapsed expanded unthreaded. Loading comments… Trouble loading? Most popular.
Boris Vian: still spitting from beyond the grave
The story is set in the United States and revolves around a sexual and racial conflict. Chris Petit of The Guardian reviewed the book in , and called it "dreamily convincing", elaborating: "A main inspiration would have been the slew of Hollywood movies that opened in Paris after the liberation , identified by the French as films noirs. I Spit A fusion of prime US pulp and French sado-eroticism[.