He kept a detailed journal of his time there and in 1936 he wrote this autobiographical novel based on those years as a student in Paris. In 1936 the threat of imminent war hung over Europe, and so even though he was writing about relatively carefree student days in Paris the tinge of the times he was experiencing in 1936 had an influence on the novel. Calling the 1920s The Last Days I think definitely indicates the state of mind of not only Queneau, but the French people in general. Monsieur Brabbant and Monsier Tolut are standing together watching it rain. They are of the older generation represented in this novel. These days there's nothing to tell you when to wear your overcoat or when to leave it off." Vincent Tuquedenne our hero and the character representing the young Raymond Queneau arrives in Paris. We are only poor unfortunate medical students, whereas he reads Saint Thomas in Latin and knows which way up to look at a cubist painting. Queneau uses their maudlin state of mind to explore what comes next. Let me tell you, monsieur, that while hell may perhaps exist heaven certainly does not exist. What if, on the other hand, my whole life...You think it exists, heaven? This novel can be read on many different levels. It has certainly inspired me to read more Raymond Queneau.
Queneau reenters the Paris of his youth, the 1920's, though the novel was written in 1936, taking us by the hand to not only relive those years with him through his protagonist but to learn past the humor of his smile, the cool distance of the nib of his pen, the chilling conclusions he reached about the reality he found around and within him. His own belief, one seemingly found through a subtraction and dimunition of options, was that he could read and study his way through his difficulties and into life, into the courage of approaching attractive women, even touch and be touched. In the cafe where he and his fellow students hang out, drink, are a threesome of older men, and a waiter, Alfred. Queneau captures his quiet protagonist, own self's, ascendancy His abilities of craft, a subtle precision unfolding over time builds our confidence, suspending our disbelief. I can see how through the reading community this would be a 5 star book. So, I take 1 star off due to my personal preference. I'm interested in reading more Queneau. When writing about such a significant time and experience in our lives we want to get it right, have others see and feel what we did and how it felt. A turn towards the purity of fiction would more likely bring forth the mood and actual feel of the times and Queneau's experiences.
The book captures a time that won't ever come again -- a truism that applies to every moment, but this sensation is particularly acute to its two groups of characters, an assortment of young students and elderly people. This heightened awareness of endings animates the characters as they weave through each others' lives, bent on avoiding studies, chasing girls, concocting swindles, betting on horses, maiming blind people, and mostly trying to find out how to navigate the next phase of their existence.
Queneau contrasts the lives of two groups of people (this is a book of doubles, and rhymes of character and incident- I didnt make this discovery on my own through close reading, its pretty much explicitly laid out in the introduction that this is whats going on structurally and what do you know? the introduction was not wrong- this is a book about doubles and rhymes of character and incident), a group of students studying among other things philosophy and literature and history, who do more drinking and trying to get laid and pondering and wandering about the glorious topography of Paris and getting into various schemes than studying, and a group of aged men who are anticipating the embrace of the tomb and dealing with their own schemes, ambitions, regrets.
The story follows the Queneau-template Tuquedenne, a loner who cant get laid and who falls in love with ideas, and the aging hustler Brabbant, a charming desperado who likes his dames young.
The Last Days is the story of what one might call a social cohort, a group of people of varying ages who know each other to varying degrees. Some of the males are students who are trying to study for a diploma in philosophy from the École Normale Supérieure; one is an aging teacher of history; another is a con man; and there are other various hangers-on. He used to say to me: You see, the customers, theyre like a pile of dead leaves. Leaves, when theyre on the tree, if you didnt know that autumn existed you might think theyd stay there forever.
Apart from small departures into word-play this seems like Queneau driving home the nails in the casket of his childhood. Instead, we get a Chaplin-like (director's)view of the time, place and interactions that comprise a childhood, cinematographic with the ability to shine the proper light, pull the right face and dictate the pace of the story of a life with a composer's mastery of pace and tone. Pathos, humor and an absolute horror of taking yourself too seriously on full display, it's no surprise that Q describes his France as a place where Chaplin has arrived - and let the detail tell you the rest of the story.
A strange and funny book--set in Paris in the '20s and focused on a few key characters in two groups, a handful of college students (including Queneau's alter ego), and a handful of old men.
Zakoupil jsem knihu za tce vydený prachy, který mi pjila moje stará a jak to dopadlo?
*note to self: in this one, too, like The Winter of the Black Snow couple characters have a theory for the weather, the big guns of the war, the war to end all wars, world war numbered one in tis story...unlike war number two for winter of the black snow. seems like there was another story that had this same idea floating...perhaps in the winter review. a note, is all, nothing more nothing less.
The Surrealists tried to achieve a sort of pure expression from the unconscious, without mediation of the author's self-aware "persona." Queneau's texts, on the contrary, are quite deliberate products of the author's conscious mind, of his memory, and his intentionality.