Thursday, June 17, 2010


EUGENE IONESCO'S SECOND PICTURE BOOK, Story Number 2, appeared one year after the first. It again finds the young Josette knocking on her parents' bedroom door early in the morning. This time Papa and Mama stayed home the night before and are already awake. In fact, Mama has already gone out.

"Jacqueline [the maid] told Josette that her mama had just left the house, with her pink umbrella, her pink gloves, her pink shoes, her pink hat with flowers on the hat, her pink pocketbook with the little mirror in it, her beautiful flowered stockings, with a gorgeous bouquet of lowers in her hand."

So Josette seeks her papa, who is on the telephone in his home office, conducting an antagonistic call. When he hangs up and Josette asks if he is speaking on the telephone, Papa says, "'This is not a telephone.'"

Josette insists that it is. Everyone has told her so. Everyone is wrong. It is called a cheese. But then, what is cheese?

"'Cheese isn't called cheese. It's called music box. And the music box is called a rug. The is called a lamp. The ceiling is called floor. The floor is called ceiling. The wall is called a door.'"

"So papa teaches Josette the real meaning of words."

Jacqueline, that champion of reality, enters and immediately starts an argument with Papa as to who is speaking correctly and who is saying the opposite. Josette believes they are actually in agreement.

"Suddenly mama arrives, like a flower." She has been out gathering flowers. "And Josette says, 'Mama, you opened the wall.'"

BARBARA NOVAK, IN HER NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW, considered Story Number 2 to be a saving grace in a children's book market that had become simple-minded and banal.
It is the most natural thing in the world for Ionesco to write for children. The reversal of usual relationships, the fantasy, the credibility he donates to the incredible, along with the sheer delight in nonsense, all are more readily assimilable by children than by their elders.
She concludes, "Ionesco, you are welcome to picture book land."

Despite such a laudatory review, Story Number 2 is rather slight, devoid as it is of story, and with word play that is no more than substitution, not the delightful nonsense of Dr. Seuss or Edward Lear. Delessert's surrealistic images have little to do with the text, which is in some ways their strength, adding a second set of symbols beside Ionesco's. Gerard Failly's illustrations for the 1978 edition makes the connection to the surrealists explicit in his final image for the book of Josette's mother...

...which is a tribute to Salvador Dalí's Mae West.

For other Failly illustrations, see my Flickr set here.

Coming Soon: Eugène Ionesco's Story Number 3.

All images are copyrighted © and owned by their respective holders.

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