A would-be Rabelaisian novel from French writer Bruckner (Evil Angels, 1987), who has an interesting idea—defy death by refusing to be born—but smothers it with gratuitously explicit sex, grotesque physical details, and old-hat intellectualism. Young Madeleine, aware since the age of eight that ``life is a trap,'' only marries Oscar Kremer to escape her miserly parents. But, once pregnant, she has a ``brainstorm.'' She realizes she can prepare her child for the uncertain world ahead by giving him in utero all the advantages of education that are usually reserved for later. And this she proceeds to do with fanatical zeal. Enlisting the help of her aging obstetrician, Madeleine not only reads aloud the great books but also drinks various potent chemical cocktails as well. Speakers are then attached to her womb so that the baby can listen to music and learn foreign languages while Madeleine rests. The results are instantaneous: Barely three months pregnant, she hears voices begging for ``more, more.'' A sonogram reveals that she is carrying twins, immediately named Louis and Celine, and their education intensifies as the twins devour information with stunning speed. Louis is attracted to Hegel, Celine prefers the sciences, but as their birth approaches, Louis refuses to be born. Even God, enlisted by Madeleine, fails to dissuade him. Rejecting existence, Louis settles down to study in his familiar den, which has become a well-equipped laboratory and library. Now an international sensation, Louis, convinced he is ``the end of history,'' promises to find the word to end the world. But sex and hubris short-circuit Louis's task. The life of the mind is insufficient, and though Louis still has the last word, as it were, it is not in the way he'd expected. One of those too-clever novels where the writer is more intent on strutting his stuff than telling a convincing tale.
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