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It's Raining Men: René Magritte's Golconda (1953): Background information when reading Cult Classic

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Cult Classic

A Novel

by Sloane Crosley

Cult Classic by Sloane Crosley X
Cult Classic by Sloane Crosley
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2022, 304 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2023, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Chloe Pfeiffer
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About this Book

It's Raining Men: René Magritte's Golconda (1953)

This article relates to Cult Classic

Print Review

Golconda by René Magritte, a painting of many men in bowler hats and overcoats in the air against a blue sky In Sloane Crosley's novel Cult Classic, protagonist Lola is swept up in an experiment run by a secret society called the Golconda: The society's leader has manufactured a way to induce many of Lola's ex-boyfriends to appear, one at a time, in downtown Manhattan, so that she can confront them and achieve closure. The society is named for the painting Golconda (1953) by René Magritte, which the leader has on loan in his conference room.

Magritte was a Belgian artist and one of the more prominent Surrealist painters. His most famous paintings are probably The Son of Man (1946), a self-portrait showing a man in a bowler hat, his face obstructed by a hovering green apple (one of the most iconic images of the Surrealism Movement), and The Treachery of Images (1929), a depiction of a pipe with the words "This is not a pipe" in cursive French underneath. According to Britannica, his "bizarre flights of fancy blended horror, peril, comedy, and mystery." "Clouds, pipes, bowler hats, and green apples," begins Magritte's entry on the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) website: "Magritte made the familiar disturbing and strange, posing questions about the nature of representation and reality."

Bowler hats are also present in Golconda—a lot of them. The painting depicts a scene of men, all wearing the same bowler hats and overcoats, floating or falling through a blue sky, like raindrops or dust—like a "natural phenomenon," Lola thinks. "Golconda is typical of Magritte's surreal approach," writes Mike McKiernan, "depicting everyday images in a realistic and simple manner but with their significance radically altered in a Freudian dream-like way."

The painting suggests the line between the individual and the group: From far away, the men look identical, as if they might be copies of each other. And yet on closer inspection their faces are different. Some carry umbrellas and some briefcases. As a mass, they appear to be (disturbingly, almost depressingly) one and the same, but that's simply an illusion. Such an effect is thematically resonant with Cult Classic, in which Lola must consider her former lovers both as a faceless collective and as individuals. Maybe the identity of her partner doesn't even matter, it occurs to her. "Why couldn't I just mate with this guy at the end of the bar?" she thinks about a stranger. "Why couldn't we be happy? What difference would it make?" Of course, most of us can't seriously entertain that idea, or believe in it—it's not in our nature.

Golconda (French title: Golconde) by René Magritte, 1953. From the Menil Collection, Houston. © 2019. C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Filed under Music and the Arts

Article by Chloe Pfeiffer

This "beyond the book article" relates to Cult Classic. It originally ran in July 2022 and has been updated for the June 2023 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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