The second of the French Nimier's five novels is the first to appear here: the high-energy tale of a boy--and then man-- passionately in love with a giraffe. At 18, the half-orphan Joseph (his mother, from Mauritius, gave him her dark skin, while his alcoholic father is slowly dying) half-stumbles into a job: he's to travel to Marseilles, pick up a young giraffe, and escort it back to the Paris zoo, where he becomes its keeper. And thus begins a word-feast of a tale, told at the breathlessly unstoppable pace of a Beckett novel, that includes not only Joseph's love for Solange of the long lashes and soft eyes (``She was adorable''), but also scenes of Joseph's childhood, his several introductions to sex (he'd basically rather watch, it seems, and so would Solange), and his half-accidental setting of the zoo afire near book's end, though not before he's murdered an ejaculating masher named ``Colin B'' (ejaculations aplenty are strewn about here), and not before also murdering his beloved Solange--apparently from jealous anger following her once-only sexual submission to a male giraffe named Beethoven (whose you- know-what is huge). Method in all this manic madness may or may not emerge clearly. Interspersed are flashbacks to 1827, when a young giraffe, the first ever in France, is brought from Marseilles to Paris, a gift to King Charles X from the Pasha of Egypt. Through dream, hallucination, echo, library research and a curious old painting that he stumbles on (under hilarious sexual circumstances), Joseph learns that an escort and keeper of that first giraffe was named Yussef, that Yussef's turban was as red as Joseph's trademark red scarf, and that Joseph, however clownishly or calamitously, seems to be repeating history. Serious high-jinks--and talented intellectual slapstick--as the story of Empire is relived at the zoo.