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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.

One can forget their past, it doesn’t mean they’ll recover from it.

May 20, 2011 12 comments

Un roman français by Frédéric Beigbeder. 2009. 246 pages. Will be published in English (UK) in June 2012. Prix Renaudot 2009

Dear Frédéric,

May I call you Frédéric? I think I can after reading Un Roman français; after all, you’ve already let me enter into your head. Notice how English is comfortable here, I don’t have to choose between “tu” and “vous”. Convenient.

I received your book as a Christmas gift and I read it because I chose it for the Not a Rat’s Chance in Hell’s Challenge, category Take a chance. Read a book which you would rather not. For instance when the OH says ‘you’ll really like this’ and you’re thinking ‘no, I really won’t…’ Yeah, I know, that hurts your pride a little. If that can help, Michel Houellebecq is in my hell’s challenge too. Feel better?

It’s not your fault if I’m suspicious when famous people write books. And you’re famous, well at least in France’s media cosmos. Even I who don’t watch TV or read Elle or tabloids have heard your name. In short, I don’t really know your public character and I started reading your book reluctantly but with fresh eyes. So what’s the verdict? I enjoyed it. Aren’t readers won against their will the most precious ones?  

You say you started writing this autobiography in your head when you were arrested for cocaine abuse on the street. The chapters about your experience in jail aren’t my favourite ones. Don’t you exaggerate a little?

You’ve had a nice childhood and you know it. Your family has always been rich, partly aristocratic and with high connections. Your parents got a divorce; that happens. Your father was absent and week-ends at his place were more about partying than family life. Your mother changed of lovers but was present. Your elder brother looks perfect and you decided you could exist only by being his opposite. You two used to fight constantly.

All this is really banal.  

You’re at your best when you describe your mal de vivre, your clumsiness and your vision of life as a child, like here: “I spent all my childhood fighting against blushing. Someone talked to me? Rosy blotches blossomed on my cheeks. A girl looked at me? My cheekbones turned garnet. The teacher asked me a question in class? My face flushed bright crimson. I had imagined techniques to hide my blushing: redo my shoelaces, turn back as if there were suddenly something fascinating to look at right behind me, run out of the room, hide my face behind my hair, take off my jumper.”

I could feel the tenderness for your daughter Chloë and I appreciate you don’t try to disguise you fail her as a father sometimes. I enjoyed reading your book for its honesty. You genuinely tried to bring back the little boy you were. You also manage to give back the flavour of these years in France. I’m younger than you but I recognised parts of my own childhood. However, I wonder how your translators will deal with Mako Moulage and all those French references but it brought back those years.  

Something else, Frédéric. Stop dropping names and making literary comparisons such as “She was a tall, blond girl bended over her piano like a heroine in a novel by Henry James”. You use them as mental crutches to rely on but you don’t need them. Your writing is good enough, when you write such phrases as “When I left the church, I saw the sun dissolving into the branches of a cypress tree, like a gold nugget in a giant’s hand.” You don’t need to ask for literary approval by invoking the lares of all the dead writers you admire.

You wrote “I haven’t found a better definition of what literature can bring: hearing a human voice” Well, I heard yours.

Best regards.  

PS: I rescued your novel 99F from the archive room at work where it laid abandoned. I’ll probably read it.

 

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