ODILE by Raymond Queneau


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First published in France in 1937, this short novel by the quirky Queneau (Pierrot Mon Ami, p. 235) is a marvelous sendup of the Surrealists of the late 1920's and early 1930's as well as a moving love story. Roland Travy is a solitary mathematician who works in a cheap Paris boardinghouse on esoteric problems incommunicable to anyone else. With a memory ""like nature, with holes, empty spaces,"" he has been psychologically devastated by WW I. Alienated, he gets involved with the down-and-outs of Paris: a group of intellectuals captivated by literature, Communism, and spiritualism, led by the manipulative Anglares; and a gang of exotics who introduce him to Odile. The artsy crowd is a vaudeville of splinter groups, a metaphor for the unserious nature of the modern world; they embrace anything that might shock the bourgeoisie, including a sÉance to conjure up Lenin's ghost. The parlor games are all great fun for Travy (and the reader) until Anglares high-handedly signs Travy's name to a document denoucing Saxel, Travy's poet friend. Meanwhile, the exotics shoot each other--and Odile, obscurely implicated, goes to the country. As Anglares and his disciples quit the Party and try to unite an alphabet soup of splinter groups, Travy, unable to forget Odile, follows her and proposes: she indifferently marries him. They live apart, however, and Travy, realizing that he's no mathematician, becomes trapped by his own disdain for ""a friendship that turns into love."" He moves to Greece with Vincent, a sort of wisdom figure and tactful guru. At the Acropolis, ""tortured by the idea of happiness,"" he discovers ""the promise of something meaningful"" and renounces ""puerile ingenuousness"" to return to Odile, finally able to love her. Both a madcap roman à clef (primarily of interest to literati) and a parable about the search for spiritual equilibrium and human meaning.

Pub Date: Dec. 15th, 1988
ISBN: 1564782093
Publisher: Dalkey Archive (1817 79th Ave., Elmwood Park, IL 60635)