MONSIEUR by Jean-Philippe Toussaint


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 Another deceptively slender novel from French writer Toussaint, more austere than The Bathroom (1990) but just as accomplished. Toussaint is not so much a minimalist as a writer of superb economy, knowing just when to use the baroque, even fulsome, effect and when not, which he does brilliantly in this low-key story of the daily life of a man determined to be a nonentity. Monsieur, a scientist by profession, lives a life of purposeful order and passivity. He is not fond of the telephone and finds most people too volatile. At work he follows a precise daily routine and at meetings sits beside his supervisor, ``scrupulously attentive to remain in line with her body, drawing back when she moved backwards so as to be never too directly exposed.'' At home he creates similar shelters. Though rejected by his fiancÇe, he moves in with her parents; allows himself to type a thesis for a bossy neighbor; spends a weekend in the country with a group of high-placed scientists and politicians; and baby-sits his nieces for his promiscuous brother--but these random events begin to disturb him. Monsieur, ``who asked no more from life than a chair. There hovering between two compromises, he sought refuge in the calming performance of simple gestures,'' had thought that he could separate himself from the flow of time, but now he was beginning to realize that there ``were not two entities but only one, a vast movement that bore him irresistibly away.'' A surprise kiss is his moment of epiphany and release: ``It was no more difficult than that.'' Life was now ``mere child's play, for Monsieur.'' A splendidly realized portrait of a non-hero, whose boring life is anything but.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-7145-2911-7
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Marion Boyars
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1991


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