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MY FRIENDS by Emmanuel Bove

MY FRIENDS

By

Pub Date: March 20th, 1986
ISBN: 0810160587
Publisher: Carcanet--dist. by Harper & Row

An ironic, beautifully understated and entertaining early existentialist novel that was published in France in 1923, with the help of Colette, and has been translated and published here for the first time. Bove was 24 when he wrote the novel, but his narrator, Victor Baton, is as full of ulterior motives and fastidious, shrunken expectations as an old man--or, more to the point, as other, more famous French antiheroes in novels by Gide, Sartre and Camus. Baton, a wounded veteran of the First World War, lives on a tiny pension in a shabby boardinghouse in Montrouge and spends his days scouring working-class neighborhoods of Paris for the elements of a good life: warmth, comfort, cheap meals and a ""true friend"" who won't betray or disappoint him. In each spare and spirited chapter, however, another ""true friend"" does. Acting on a swift apprehension of Baton's weakness, which is vanity, ""Henri Billard,"" a street hustler, borrows 50 francs from Baton and disappears; acting on affection, an actress invites Baton to spend the night and is surprised when Baton thinks himself too handsome for her. Baton alienates everyone he meets with his grasping and his pretense at prewar elegance, until finally, in the eloquent last chapter, Baton's neighbors ask that he be removed from his room in the boardinghouse and he is utterly alone, but not without reassurance: he feels his solitary heart warming his body and thinks that the future will be better. All in all, a polished depiction of a favorite theme of Gide's: that silly or gratuitous actions express a need to assert individuality, even in a meager, unresponsive world. Contemporary readers will find Bore's world, of postwar Paris, fascinating and entertaining, and his skill in rendering it impressive.