Obituary: Claude Roy

Claude Roy, writer: born Paris 28 August 1915; twice married, secondly to Loleh Bellon (one son); died Paris 13 December 1997.

The son of the artiste-peintre Felicien Roy, Claude Roy was born with an eye for the unusual and colourful, and an ear for words so acute, he always seemed like a child learning to speak and read.

Several of his best known books are rhymes, poems and absurd tales for the young of all ages, illustrated by well-known artists, among whom he had many friends, including Picasso, Balthus, Zao Wou Ki and Zoran Music. Roy's last work was a book on his friend, Balthus (1996). His most enchanting children's books, two volumes of Enfantasques (1974 and 1978) are illustrated by his own witty collages. He wrote a delightful book about the art of painting, inspired by memories of watching his father at work, in L'Amour de la peinture (1955).

LIke all the truest artists, he had a child-like astonishment at everything he encountered in life. He had the gift to see the most ordinary things as if for the first time, a gift that also reminds us we may be seeing them for good and all, first and last impressions, light and dark combined. L'Etonnement ("astonishment") of the kind Diaghilev demanded of Cocteau when he ordered: "Jean, etonne-moi!" is everywhere in Claude Roy's work.

He wrote several volumes of autobiography, beginning in 1978 with Moi je ("As for Me") and ending in 1990 with L'Etonnement du voyageur. He was the ideal traveller, one who was perpetually ready to be amazed - in America, China, India and Japan.

These books are full of encounters with a transformed everyday, with ordinary people and with the famous. His section on Japan in La Fleur du temps (1988) contains the sort of snapshot sketches that most short- stay visitors find impossible to record in the fantastic novelty of a totally new way of living and seeing life. His brief essay on the Katsura Villa near Kyoto is a fine example of how his trained eye and ear detected the understated, the invisible in the atmosphere of that sublimely simple elegance of architecture and garden.

Claude Roy's childhood was Parisian but with holidays in the country at Jarnac, where he first encountered Francois Mitterrand. He attended the Lycee Montaigne and the Lycee d'Angouleme, and studied at the Faculties of Letters in Paris and Bordeaux.

The Second World War came, and he was captured by the Germans, but his native ingenuity secured his escape and he became an intrepid Resistance fighter, for which he was later awarded the Croix de guerre. He joined the Communist party in 1943, but this did not last long: he was no Stalinist. In 1945, with the 2nd Division of the British Army, he entered the extermination camp of the Nazis at Bergen-Belsen, an experience that shadowed the many horizons of his life to come.

His friend Marthe Robert said he kept "a sad heart but a gay spirit" throughout the many trials he saw inflicted upon humanity, and upon himself. As one reads his journals, one becomes steadily more aware of the presence of the cancer encroaching on his body, though the references to it are sparse and without self-pity.

In the end, one shared his astonishment that he was still alive, that he had lived so long. But even when he knew he was dying, his zest for living never wavered. "Death - all right: it has to come. But to stop living - never!"

For a writer with such a huge and distinguished body of brilliant work, it is amazing that he was not more generously recompensed, for he was awarded only one or two minor consolation prizes out of France's vast store of prestigious literary honours: Grand prix du Pen Club (1988) seems a derisory award for so much talent and so much pure pleasure in his style and personality.

Catherine Trautmann, the sympathetic and knowledgeable French Minister of Culture, paid Claude Roy a graceful and sincere tribute: "He has won his last battle, because for us he will never cease to be alive."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future