Sunday, 27 July 2014

Book review: A French Novel, Frederic Beigbeder (2013)

This funny and epigrammatic novel - sort of like the best of Jane Austen - by French author Frederic Beigbeder (pronounced 'beg-bed-air') is a novel like Truman Capote's In Cold Blood was a "non fiction novel", as the author self-consciously once dubbed it. In fact it's a memoir but it's written in the novelistic style we call 'creative non fiction'.

The premis is simple. Arrested by the Paris police for consuming drugs in a public place, Beigbeder is forced into confinement. Long lost memories bubble up in this pressure-cooker environment. The author likens the dependency and subjection of childhood to imprisonment. So he writes a history not only of himself (we seem to spend a lot of time between 1972 and 1974) but also of his family, starting with WWI, as so much of French national history, you imagine, must also do. In the kind of scientific and imaginative way we expect with the French, Biegbeder seeks as well to locate himself within French history - hence the book's title. It's a very compelling journey during which apart from learning you also tend to empathise, to shift the centre of your own soul's gravity so that it is located somewhere closer to that of the book's protagonist.

The young Frederic's parents were divorced, for example, so you compare his experience with your own (the author was born in 1965, I was born in 1962) and you enjoy the passages in which the narrator digests his experience and uses it to make general observations on the world. Complex and worldly, tender and intricate, the narrative carries the reader along with its flow like some broad estuary situated near a warm ocean. We spill out into the sea and swim for the horizon. With this kind of talent nothing is impossible, you think.

1 comment:

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