THE SUNDAY OF LIFE by Raymond Queneau
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Raymond Queneau's third novel in English translation is a wonderfully comic extension of the most conventional possible subject: how it is that people spend their time. The two main characters work, but mostly because they have to; for the rest, they amuse themselves by permitting themselves their eccentricities. Julia, middle-aged, openly greedy, and a little raffish, sets out to marry Valentin, perhaps because she's bored with spinsterhood; perhaps because she foresees, with her gift of clairvoyance, that her slapstick sister is about to get rich and half desert her: or perhaps because Valentin reminds her of a phantom soldier-lover. It doesn't matter, she chooses well. For his part, young Valentin, a perfectly mannered ne'er-do-well soldier; imagines that running Julia's notions shop would make as good a new life as any. They combine with almost magical ease, and give each other enough delightful, funny freedom so that Valentin can play the shrewd rustic on his honeymoon trip alone and Julia can gleefully squeeze a last centime out of her buttons and thread. And, later, Valentin can become a Parisian merchant in his own right, passing the time by trying to catch time in the act of passing, and learning enough about his customers to outdo Julia in her secret fortune-telling business. Even though the characters prance right on the edge of the German Occupation, it changes no more than the circumstances of their lives; Valentin amuses himself in the war years by practicing to become a saint. These characters are charming, and their crafty little insights grab us as our own do. The novel is as cheerful as its ending, which is trivial and satisfying in the extreme.

Pub Date: April 14th, 1977
ISBN: 0811206467
Publisher: New Directions