An impish satire on regimentation—as seen in the delicious particulars of this fetching 1953 novel, previously, unforgivably unavailable in English translation.
French author Vian crammed a lot of living, and unique high achievement, into his unfortunately brief life (1920–59). Trained as an engineer, he became instead an accomplished novelist, playwright, actor, jazz musician, and charter member of the experimental “College of Pataphysics”—also attended, as it were, by such mischievous innovators as Raymond Queneau and Eugene Ionesco. Admirers of the latter’s fiendishly loopy plays may detect the influence of Ionesco’s jaunty illogic, though there’s a lot of Molière in Vian too. Heartsnatcher’s arresting title alludes directly to the devious practices of its protagonist Timortis, a morose psychiatrist who attempts to enrich his own life by entering, then possessing his patients’ dreams, fears, and fantasies (the scene in which he sets forth to “analyze” a bored housecat is beyond praise). His counterpart is the other protagonist, Clementine, an insanely overprotective mother who locks up her baffled husband, safely away from their progeny (a set of triplets), over whose lives she hovers with paramilitary paranoid rapture. These two characters (and several others scarcely less grotesquely absurd) coexist unpeacefully in a provincial town bedeviled by impossible occurrences, and itself a fount of hilarious eccentricity and misrule. For example, an indigent fisherman is hired to retrieve garbage from a nearby river with his teeth. And elderly people are sold as toys. What’s so captivating about Vian’s mad inventions is their perfectly logical relation to recognizable societal folly (e.g., maternal “smothering,” exploitation of poor people, indifference to the rights of the aged). Though Vian matured in the time of Sartre and Camus (and knew both), he’s really an antiexistentialist. His people are indeed responsible for their actions: it’s they, not the universe, who are absurd.
A major rediscovery. Don’t miss it.