Henri Calet was born Raymond-Théodore Barthelmess in Paris in 1904. His father was a French anarchist and his mother Flemish. Both had a variety of casual jobs. However, his father got a job as a motor mechanic and supplemented his income with various illegal activities, including money forging. Calet did not go to school but was badly hurt when he fell in the garage where his father worked. When he returned from convalescence, his father had moved in with another woman.
When the war started his father fled to the Netherlands, to avoid serving in the military while his mother and her son went to Brussels. After the war they returned to Paris and his parents got back together. They eventually married. Calet worked in an electricity company and started taking an interest in music, painting and literature. However, he also took up gambling, betting on horse races and eventually stole a large sum of money from his employer. He fled to Montevideo.
Moving between Brazil and Uruguay, he continued his dissolute life, including becoming a cocaine addict. In 1931 he returned to Europe. He remained in hiding but, at this time, started writing. He was sentenced in his absence but was now producing the works of fiction for which he would become known. When the statute of limitations meant he was no longer a wanted man, he was able to legally marry.
He was called up in World War II and was captured by the Germans and became a prisoner-of-war. He managed to escape and fled to Vichy territory. After the war, he returned to Paris and continued his career as a writer, both of journalism and as a writer of fiction. He died in 1956.
His reputation has been revived in France in recent years but he is still virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, though two of his works have been published in English.
Henri Calet (in French)
Henri Calet (in French)
Henri Calet ou la résurrection d’un écrivain (in French)
Le peintre des humeurs vagabondes (profile – in French)
Henri Calet: Paris à hauteur d’homme (in French)
1935 La Belle Lurette [Long Time Ago]
1937 Le Mérinos
1939 La Fièvre des Polders [Polder Fever]
1945 Les Murs de Fresnes
1945 Le Bouquet
1947 Trente à quarante
1947 Rêver à la Suisse
1948 Le Tout sur le tout (Young Man of Paris)
1950 Monsieur Paul (Paris, My Love; later: Monsieur Paul)
1950 L’Italie à la paresseuse
1951 Les grandes largeurs
1952 Un grand voyage
1954 Les Deux bouts
1956 Le Croquant indiscret,
1956 Contre l’oubli
1958 Peau d’ours
1959 Acteur et témoin
1989 Cinq sorties de Paris
1996 Une stèle pour la céramique
2000 De ma lucarne, chroniques
2002 Poussières de la route
2015 Huit quartiers de roture