Well, I’ve just finished reading this book, got that ‘best book I’ve ever read’ vibe, deeply profound, completely misanthropic (And ain’t that a word I’m over using). I personally have turned a corner in my mind, a point where I feel that at last I’m not wasting time reading poor literature, along with other great writers I’ve read this year (Orwell/Mailer). These books have helped me during a crappy period in my life.
The book is a fictionalised account based on Destouches life from the outbreak of the great war until the early thirties, the book is in two parts, the first part dealing with his adventures in the war, in Africa, and in America, returning in the second part to his life as a doctor in a working class suburb of Paris in the 20′ & 30’s. Told in the first person our hero Ferdinand Bardamu has no problem running away from every sticky situation he gets into..full of the blackest of comedy, fully rounded characters drop in and out, a constant re-curing character being Leon Robinson (who’s character is quoted below). The book’s general theme is a sad goodbye to youth, an uneasy realization of death that stalks us all. I read half the book in two days, and then stopped, I stopped because I was going too quick, every page has literary flourishes that feed the mind that massage the eye. the second half of the book for me is not such a quick read but nonetheless a pure pleasure.
Destouches was a flawed character, who in the 30’s & 40’s turned towards fascism, writing Anti-Semitic pamphlets, and then actively involved in the German controlled French Vichy regime government, narrowly avoiding execution for his traitorous behaviour, Its not easy to excuse his decision, other than to say that those involved in the Great war witnessed such horror (over 10 million military deaths), and were completely disillusioned with the powers that existed (e.g. democracy), there was a popular need to find new ways of governing. Not an excuse, but an understandable reason. Destouches was injured during the 1st World war at the great battles at Ypres, and suffered from his injuries for the rest of his life.
Destouches reputation will always suffer from his turn towards fascism, but he and this book is still recognised as one of the great writers and works of 20th century french literature.. And to ignore this book because of his later views would be tragic.
go here for another excerpt
‘Wrong!’ he shouted. ‘I’ve got plenty of courage, as much as you!. . . Only, if you want the whole truth. . . everything, absolutely everything, disgusts me and turns my stomach! Not just you!. . . Everything!. . . And love most of all!. . . Yours as much as anybody else’s!. . . The sentimental tripe you dish out. . . Want me to tell you what I think of it? I think it’s like making love in the shithouse! Do you get me now?. . . All the sentiment you trot out to make me stick with you hits me like an insult, if you want to know. . . And to make it worse, you don’t even realize it, you’re the one that’s rotten because you don’t understand!. . . You’re satisfied repeating the rubbish other people say. . . You think it makes sense. . . People have told you there’s nothing better than love, they’ve told you it’ll go down with everybody, everywhere and always, and that’s good enough for you. . . Well, I say fuck their love!. . . You hear?. . . Their putrid love doesn’t go down with me. . . not any more!. . . you’ve missed the train. . . You’re too late! It won’t go down any more, and that’s that!. . . What a stupid thing to get steamed up about!. . . Why do you have to make love, considering all the things that are happening?. . . All the things we see around us!. . . Or are you blind?. . . More likely you just don’t give a damn! You wallow in sentiment when you’re a worse brute than anybody. . . You want to eat rotten meat?. . . With love sauce?. . . Does that help it down?. . . Not with Me!. . . If you don’t smell anything, it’s your hard luck! Maybe your nose is stuffed up! if it doesn’t disgust you, it’s because you’re stupid, the whole lot of you. . . You want to know what it is that comes between you and me?. . . All right, I’ll tell you! A whole life is what comes between you and me. . . Isn’t that enough for you?