Home > 21st Century, Autobiography, Beigbeder Frédéric, French Literature > One can forget their past, it doesn’t mean they’ll recover from it.

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

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.

 

  1. May 20, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    This is a clever approach to book reviewing, and like you I am put off by celebrity authors. Sometimes I think their fame gets them published. BTW,I hadn’t heard of this author (fame or not).

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  2. May 20, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    I did a post in letter form a while back on my movie blog. I’m not writing this to make you sound less original, no, I like your post a lot. I write it because else I couldn’t really say what I want to say. I chose the letter form for a movie I hated. Totally hated but I love the actor, so it was like scolding him. Your case is the exact opposite. What interests me is why did you choose this form for this book? Because you wanted to answer to his voice?
    I never read him because I always thought I should and that put me off.
    This wouldn’t be my cup of tea but it does sound well written.

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    • May 20, 2011 at 10:43 pm

      I don’t know why I chose the letter form. It came naturally. Probably because his book sounds like a confidence.

      It’s well-written but it won’t last because of the literary, brands and people names. It’s a pity. This book seemed like a therapy and I’m curious to see if his style will change in the next books.

      “I never read him because I always thought I should and that put me off.” That’s why I still haven’t read Houellebecq.

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  3. May 20, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    First review I have encountered in this form. Fun, effective and enjoyable. Wondering if I would choose to write in this way, and no, I prefer to keep authors at a greater distance. As you imply, autobiography precludes distance, perhaps that is why I tend not to read them.

    Glad that reading the book wasn’t a horrible experience!

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  4. May 25, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    I like the review, I’m less tempted by the book. That said it makes the challenge successful didn’t it? There is something nice in stretching oneself and trying stuff one wouldn’t normally read.

    The Henry James bit is forced and a tad offputting. I do wonder whether if he weren’t already well known people would be paying attention. But then, if the book merits attention and it sounds like it does perhaps it doesn’t matter how it gets it.

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    • May 25, 2011 at 3:47 pm

      There are many other books to read before this one.

      I think he lacks confidence in his gift as a writer. It didn’t feel he was showing off his culture but more that he was looking for approval. You know, like a child who tries something new and checks that his/her parent nods at him/her with encouragement.

      In appearance, he’s exactly what I don’t like in French literature though: the critic who writes reviews, has a literary TV show, is a member of literary prizes and also writes. Very Parisian and Parisian centred. He’s not the Proust of the 21st century but his autobiography sounded sincere.

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      • May 25, 2011 at 3:56 pm

        I’ll pass then. Do you have any thoughts on Florian Zeller? Your description reminded me of him.

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        • May 25, 2011 at 4:01 pm

          Among the last books I’ve read, I think you’d like Company by Max Barry. And I was sorry for you when I discovered that Aline isn’t translated into English, you would have liked it.

          I don’t know Florian Zeller. I see all his novels have been published during my no-life period. I don’t know what happened in literature from 2001 to 2007 at least. I’m trying to catch up. Thanks, I’ll see if I can watch one of his plays.

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  1. December 10, 2011 at 5:59 am
  2. March 20, 2012 at 12:37 am

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