Friday, May 2, 2014

Fiction Friday (28)

It had been a while since I've read a book by a favorite author of mine. Mostly because many of my favorite authors are long gone, which means there are only a precious number of their works yet to be read. I fear burning through them too quickly, but also I fear passing them up for something else, never knowing when the day will come when I will have read my last book. So every so often I make it a point to make sure I spend some time connecting with my favorites and this past week was just such a time. It was nice spending the days with Raymond Queneau, my old pal who I hadn't read in quite some time. Enjoy.

Pierrot Mon Ami by Raymond Queneau

Queneau is a master of character, often sacrificing plot for the creation of personalities for the reader to connect with. As a writer who has often been criticized for the same "flaws," I've always been drawn to Queneau's work. The thing many people don't understand about novels that focus more on character than plot is that the world revolves around the character because he or she is the only one aware of what is going on in. In that way the character becomes a stand-in for the author, observing the world with a reluctance to get involved. Pierrot is such a character in this novel.

It follows one summer in the life of a young man. And though much happens around him, there is no central plot. He falls in love, though there is no relationship. He gets a job, loses a job, gets another job, loses another job; all in two days time. There is a spectacular fire, a phoney prince with a tomb erected in his honor, and a short car trip with a trained ape and boar. And while Pierrot exists on the periphery of all of these events, he is never truly engaged. There is a moment near the end of the book where Pierrot reflects on his adventure, referring to it as a sort of current that carried him into chance encounters. During this reflection, Queneau writes:

"He saw too the novel it could have made, a detective novel with a crime, a guilty party and a detective, and the requisite interplay between the different asperities of the demonstration, and he saw the novel that it had become, a novel so shorn of artifice that it was quite impossible to know whether it contained a riddle to be solved or whether it did not..."

As one of the voices of the French "new novel," Queneau refused to force life into the confines of a novel plot. Life doesn't fit into nice packages. Sometimes things that happen simply come to nothing. But that doesn't mean there isn't something one can take away from a story such as this one. It's an enjoyable, often humorous tale of young man who has no direction and no idea what his future holds. And like many his age, he doesn't much care, willing to just go with the flow. And though there is no climatic moment, or defining turn of events, Pierrot shows growth. Somewhere in his journey, the insecure, slightly nervous figure from the opening becomes a more confident person able to laugh at the absurdities of life.

This is a subtle novel, and one that really doesn't leave much of an impact until it's been absorbed in its entirety. I wasn't sure that I truly liked it until I was finished, but once I was, everything sort of came together for me. Not his absolute best, but definitely worth the read.

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