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Son of a pitch

March 20, 2012 10 comments

99 Francs by Frédéric Beigbeder 2000. British translation: £9.99

This is my second Frédéric Beigbeder and like the first one, I didn’t buy it. I read Un Roman Français last year, remember, it was part of my Not A Rat’s Chance in Hell’s Challenge. It was better than expected. I found 99 Francs in the archive room at work. It laid abandoned on a shelf and the pull was too strong, I couldn’t leave the poor book alone, it howled for a home. OK, if it had been a SAS, I would have thought it was better it kept company to all these boxes of invoices. But it wasn’t, so I brought it home.

Frédéric Beigbeder was born in 1965 in a bourgeois family and used to work as an advertising executive before becoming a writer, among other things. Once he was arrested because he had cocaine on him. 99 Francs is the story of Octave, a thirtysomething advertising executive who loathes his job and sniffs cocaine. Now you understand why I wrote the biographical elements, I who never cares about a writer’s life.

Octave has the same name than Musset’s character in The Confession of a Child of the Century. And indeed it’s not a coincidence at all. So Octave is bored. Octave is heartbroken because his lover left him. Octave wallows in debauchery. Octave thinks about how shallow the world is, how corrupted and money driven it is. And Octave shows us what happens behind the curtains in the advertising world.

Honestly, I didn’t like it although there are definitely some good things in this book, especially at the beginning. I didn’t enjoy it for several reasons. First, I’m a business school graduate, I suffered during marketing classes and only Max Barry could make something entertaining with that. Second, the bits about corporate world reminded me of where I don’t want to work ; it was easy to picture the meetings with they client Madone. Third, binge drinking, cocaine, raw sex and partying are more glamorous when they’re set in Manhattan and written by Jay McInerney. What can I say? The best marketers are American, they even invented Santa Claus. Plus, when you’re not a native, things sound less silly when they are in English. Song lyrics are the perfect example.

Octave is fed up with his job, he questions its worth and points out that it helps money governing the world, making people only wanting to buy new things instead of focusing on the real values. Haven’t we heard it all before? Beigbeder rebels like a bourgeois kid who wants to bother their father, yelling with small fists clenched in designer jeans. The parallel with Musset could sound fake but didn’t I see a parallel between Musset’s generation and mine when I read Confession of A Child of the Century? I can’t criticize Beigbeder for it, for I could feel the connection too.

The structure is original, each chapter is written in a different personal pronoun. It starts with I and finishes with you (plural). The point of view shifts and between each chapter, there’s a mini-chapter written like a commercial break. Clever.

If someone still wants to read it and if you’re not French, don’t read it in French. You wouldn’t understand it. This book doesn’t need a translation, it needs a transcription. It’s full of references to well-known commercials; you need to see the images conveyed by the slogans, otherwise you’re missing the fun and Octave’s point.

After re-reading my review, I notice that I have a lot of links to other posts in it, more than the usual. It shows how it echoed with other books, this novel is indeed a child of its century.

PS : Something else about this book. In his interviews about Claustria, Régis Jauffret makes a comparison between watching TV and the cavern in Plato’s essay. Well, dear M. Jauffret, Frédéric Beigbeder wrote this comparison before and it’s in 99 Francs.

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