Monday, July 4, 2011

{review} paris in july: zazie in the metro

This is a post for Paris in July, hosted by BookBath and Thyme for Tea.


Raymond Queneau Zazie in the Metro (1959; English tr. Barbara Wright, 1960)

There was about a twenty year gap between my becoming aware of Zazie in the Metro and my actually summoning up the courage to read it. 

Zazie in the Metro  Zazie Dans Le Metro (Folio Plus Classiques 62)

O why o why o why did I wait? Well, my first meeting with Zazie was in a French lesson at university where a chunk was presented to see if we could make anything of it. [Answer: no.] And then - jump a few years - and I directly blame Roland Barthes for my further neglect of Zazie, thanks to his essay 'Zazie and Literature' (1959; republished in Critical Essays, 1972 [Google books link]). Zazie didn't sound much fun; indeed, Zazie sounded like hard work. But I was wrong (not unusual!) for Zazie is absolutely brilliant. (Um, at least in English.) 

The translator of anything by Raymond Queneau deserves whatever is the translator's equivalent of an Oscar combined with the Nobel Prize. This is the opening line:
Doukipudonktan, se demanda Gabriel excédé. 
(Howcanaystinksotho, wondered Gabriel, exasperated.)
The language of Zazie is filled with colloquialisms, elided strings of French words (the first word above is, thank you Wikipedia, meant to be D'où qu'il pue donc tant?) and dialectic in-jokes and, I won't lie, it is sometimes hard work to sort it out until you get into the swing and start talking like that yourself (OK, not quite...). It is well worth the effort: the book is hysterically funny and it is a wonderful celebration of Paris.

The young teenaged (anti-)heroine, Zazie, is sent to Paris to stay with her uncle Gabriel while her mother has some R&R with a lover. Gabriel's only wish is that having Zazie to stay does not interfere with his job as a cross-dressing nightclub performer (and that she does not get raped). Zazie is a foul-mouthed and far from naïve country-girl and her only wish is to travel on the métro; which is on strike. She escapes her uncle's apartment and so a whirlwind of bad language and behaviour is set loose on the inhabitants of the city as Zazie sets out to achieve her secondary ambitions of owning a pair of blue jeans ("blewgenes") and drinking Coca-Cola ("cacocalo"). There are run-ins with fake policemen, sleezy gents in raincoats, busloads of tourists, a flea-market, Gabriel's taxi-driving brother-in-law (who seeks love in the lonelihearts columns), and many unforgettable minor characters, until the grand and bloody finale with its deus ex machina surprise twist.  


Zazie is an astonishing journey through a Paris where all of the landmarks take on a blurred sense of our disbelief in their very existence: are we really passing the Panthéon? We become discombobulated by the frenzy of inversions of our expectations - those of geography, architecture and the correct behaviour of young girls, elderly widows, taxi-drivers, gentle wives and proper uncles.
'How about that!' he roars, 'look!! the Panthéon!!!'
'The things you hear,' says Charles without turning around.
He was driving slowly so that the child could see the sights and improve her mind into the bargain.
'Maybe it isn't the Panthéon?' asks Gabriel.
There's something crafty about his question.
'No,' says Charles forcefully. 'No, no and no, it isn't the Panthéon.'
'Well what would it be then in your opinion?'
The craftiness of his tone becomes almost insulting to his interlocutor who, moreover, hastens to admit defeat.
'I don't really know,' says Charles.
'There. You see.'
'But it isn't the Panthéon.'
...
'And that,' he exclaims, 'that's . . .
But he's cut short by a eurequation from his brother-in-law.
'I've got it,' roars the latter. 'The thing we've just seen, twasn't the Panthéon, course it wasn't, it was the Gare de Lyon.'
'Maybe,' says Gabriel casually, 'but it's past history now...'
Zazie is unexpected and brilliant and farcical and sexy - and a must-read for lovers of Paris. Oh, and it's only really novella-sized.

Rating: 10/10.

If you liked this... and can deal with more Queneau, I'm picking my way very slowly through his Exercises in Style in which he retells the same paragraph of narrative in umpteen different ways (e.g. Dog Latin, or in the persona of a woman; in the English translation there's even Cockney). There's an excellent review by Jenny at shelf love. Incidentally, Zazie - written on the cusp of the nouvelle vague movement - was made into a film in 1960; the heroine is cast as a much younger girl (she is firmly teenaged in the book).

Exercises in Style  Exercices De Style (French Edition)

No comments:

Post a Comment

{READ IN 2018}

  • FEBRUARY
  • 30.
  • 29.
  • 28.
  • 27.
  • 26. The Grave's a Fine & Private Place - Alan Bradley
  • 25. This is What Happened - Mick Herron
  • 24. London Rules - Mick Herron
  • 23. The Third Eye - Ethel Lina White
  • 22. Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mewed - Alan Bradley
  • 21. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust - Alan Bradley
  • 20. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches - Alan Bradley
  • 19. Speaking from Among the Bones - Alan Bradley
  • JANUARY
  • 18. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman
  • 17. Miss Ranskill Comes Home - Barbara Euphan Todd
  • 16. The Long Arm of the Law - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 15. Nobody Walks - Mick Herron
  • 14. The Talented Mr Ripley - Patricia Highsmith
  • 13. Portrait of a Murderer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 12. Murder is a Waiting Game - Anthony Gilbert
  • 11. Tenant for the Tomb - Anthony Gilbert
  • 10. Death Wears a Mask - Anthony Gilbert
  • 9. Night Encounter - Anthony Gilbert
  • 8. The Visitor - Anthony Gilbert
  • 7. The Looking Glass Murder - Anthony Gilbert
  • 6. The Voice - Anthony Gilbert
  • 5. The Fingerprint - Anthony Gilbert
  • 4. Ring for a Noose - Anthony Gilbert
  • 3. No Dust in the Attic - Anthony Gilbert
  • 2. Uncertain Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 1. She Shall Died - Anthony Gilbert

{READ IN 2017}

  • DECEMBER
  • 134. Third Crime Lucky - Anthony Gilbert
  • 133. Death Takes a Wife - Anthony Gilbert
  • 132. Death Against the Clock - Anthony Gilbert
  • 131. Give Death a Name - Anthony Gilbert
  • 130. Riddle of a Lady - Anthony Gilbert
  • 129. And Death Came Too - Anthony Gilbert
  • 128. Snake in the Grass - Anthony Gilbert
  • 127. Footsteps Behind Me - Anthony Gilbert
  • 126. Miss Pinnegar Disappears - Anthony Gilbert
  • 125. Lady-Killer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 124. A Nice Cup of Tea - Anthony Gilbert
  • 123. Die in the Dark - Anthony Gilbert
  • 122. Death in the Wrong Room - Anthony Gilbert
  • 121. The Spinster's Secret - Anthony Gilbert
  • 120. Lift up the Lid - Anthony Gilbert
  • 119. Don't Open the Door - Anthony Gilbert
  • 118. The Black Stage - Anthony Gilbert
  • 117. A Spy for Mr Crook - Anthony Gilbert
  • 116. The Scarlet Button - Anthony Gilbert
  • 115. He Came by Night - Anthony Gilbert
  • 114. Something Nasty in the Woodshed - Anthony Gilbert
  • NOVEMBER
  • 113. Death in the Blackout - Anthony Gilbert
  • 112. The Woman in Red - Anthony Gilbert
  • 111. The Vanishing Corpse - Anthony Gilbert
  • 110. London Crimes - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 109. The Midnight Line - Anthony Gilbert
  • 108. The Clock in the Hatbox - Anthony Gilbert
  • 107. Dear Dead Woman - Anthony Gilbert
  • 106. The Bell of Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 105. Treason in my Breast - Anthony Gilbert
  • 104. Murder has no Tongue - Anthony Gilbert
  • 103. The Man who Wasn't There - Anthony Gilbert
  • OCTOBER
  • 102. Murder by Experts - Anthony Gilbert
  • 101. The Perfect Murder Case - Christopher Bush
  • 100. The Plumley Inheritance - Christopher Bush
  • 99. Spy - Bernard Newman
  • 98. Cargo of Eagles - Margery Allingham & Philip Youngman Carter
  • 97. The Mind Readers - Margery Allingham
  • SEPTEMBER
  • 96. The China Governess - Margery Allingham
  • 95. Hide My Eyes - Margery Allingham
  • 94. The Beckoning Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 93. The Tiger in the Smoke - Margery Allingham
  • 92. More Work for the Undertaker - Margery Allingham
  • 91. Coroner's Pidgin - Margery Allingham
  • 90. Traitor's Purse - Margery Allingham
  • 89. The Fashion in Shrouds - Margery Allingham
  • 88. The Case of the Late Pig - Margery Allingham
  • 87. Dancers in Mourning - Margery Allingham
  • AUGUST
  • 86. Flowers for the Judge - Margery Allingham
  • 85. Death of a Ghost - Margery Allingham
  • 84. Sweet Danger - Margery Allingham
  • 83. Police at the Funeral - Margery Allingham
  • 82. Look to the Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 81. Mystery Mile - Margery Allingham
  • 80. The Crime at Black Dudley - Margery Allingham
  • 79. The White Cottage Mystery - Margery Allingham
  • 78. Murder Underground - Mavis Doriel Hay
  • 77. No Man's Land - David Baldacci
  • 76. The Escape - David Baldacci
  • 75. The Forgotten - David Baldacci
  • 74. Zero Day - David Baldacci
  • JULY
  • 73. Pilgrim's Rest - Patricia Wentworth
  • 72. The Case is Closed - Patricia Wentworth
  • 71. The Watersplash - Patricia Wentworth
  • 70. Lonesome Road - Patricia Wentworth
  • 69. The Listening Eye - Patricia Wentworth
  • 68. Through the Wall - Patricia Wentworth
  • 67. Out of the Past - Patricia Wentworth
  • 66. Mistress - Amanda Quick
  • 65. The Black Widow - Daniel Silva
  • 64. The Narrow - Michael Connelly
  • 63. The Poet - Michael Connelly
  • 62. The Visitor - Lee Child
  • 61. No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Stories - Lee Child
  • JUNE
  • 60. The Queen's Accomplice - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 59. Mrs Roosevelt's Confidante - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 58. The PM's Secret Agent - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 57. His Majesty's Hope - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 56. Princess Elizabeth's Spy - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 55. Mr Churchill's Secretary - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 54. A Lesson in Secrets - Jacqueline Winspear
  • 53. Hit & Run - Lawrence Block
  • 52. Hit Parade - Lawrence Block
  • 51. Hit List - Lawrence Block
  • 50. Six Were Present - E. R. Punshon
  • 49. Triple Quest - E. R. Punshon
  • MAY
  • 48. Dark is the Clue - E. R. Punshon
  • 47. Brought to Light - E. R. Punshon
  • 46. Strange Ending - E. R. Punshon
  • 45. The Attending Truth - E. R. Punshon
  • 44. The Golden Dagger - E. R. Punshon
  • 43. The Secret Search - E. R. Punshon
  • 42. Spook Street - Mick Herron
  • 41. Real Tigers - Mick Herron
  • 40. Dead Lions - Mick Herron
  • 39. Slow Horses - Mick Herron
  • APRIL
  • 38. Everybody Always Tells - E. R. Punshon
  • 37. So Many Doors - E. R. Punshon
  • 36. The Girl with All the Gifts - M. R. Carey
  • 35. A Scream in Soho - John G. Brandon
  • 34. A Murder is Arranged - Basil Thomson
  • 33. The Milliner's Hat Mystery - Basil Thomson
  • 32. Who Killed Stella Pomeroy? - Basil Thomson
  • 31. The Dartmoor Enigma - Basil Thomson
  • 30. The Case of the Dead Diplomat - Basil Thomson
  • 29. The Case of Naomi Clynes - Basil Thomson
  • 28. Richardson Scores Again - Basil Thomson
  • 27. A Deadly Thaw - Sarah Ward
  • MARCH
  • 26. The Spy Paramount - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 25. The Great Impersonation - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 24. Ragdoll - Daniel Cole
  • 23. The Case of Sir Adam Braid - Molly Thynne
  • 22. The Ministry of Fear - Graham Greene
  • 21. The Draycott Murder Mystery - Molly Thynne
  • 20. The Murder on the Enriqueta - Molly Thynne
  • 19. The Nowhere Man - Gregg Hurwitz
  • 18. He Dies and Makes No Sign - Molly Thynne
  • FEBRUARY
  • 17. Death in the Dentist's Chair - Molly Thynne
  • 16. The Crime at the 'Noah's Ark' - Molly Thynne
  • 15. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
  • 14. Night School - Lee Child
  • 13. The Dancing Bear - Frances Faviell
  • 12. The Reluctant Cannibals - Ian Flitcroft
  • 11. Fear Stalks the Village - Ethel Lina White
  • 10. The Plot - Irving Wallace
  • JANUARY
  • 9. Understood Betsy - Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • 8. Give the Devil his Due - Sulari Gentill
  • 7. A Murder Unmentioned - Sulari Gentill
  • 6. Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris
  • 5. Gentlemen Formerly Dressed - Sulari Gentill
  • 4. While She Sleeps - Ethel Lina White
  • 3. A Chelsea Concerto - Frances Faviell
  • 2. Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul - H. G. Wells
  • 1. Heft - Liz Moore