THE PROVOCATEUR by Rene-Victor Pilhes


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Someone--a ""provocateur,"" an ""imprecator""--has been mass-delivering manifestolike scrolls to the employees of the French division of the world's largest multinational corporation, and the big boys upstairs are nervous. Contained in the mysterious messages are lessons in economics--the law of supply and demand, reserve capital, amortization, cash-flow--the sort of arcana the higher-ups don't like the proles to know about. Besides, there's extra heartache: one of the foundation walls of the headquarters building has an everwidening crack, and, to top it all, there's been a rash of strange impersonations and uncomfortable coincidences. As management tries to find out what's happening and as cliques form and distrust among executives multiplies, it's clear that the joint is totally losing its cool--like a Jacques Tati spoof of post-industrial bureaucracy, only not funny. What, then? Well, for starters, very very dry. Pilhes wants so badly to shaft the idea of the all-powerful multinationals that his satire lacks subtlety: the entire book is couched in official-ese, and big dumplings of essay-like asides on world and economic affairs pop up every now and again. Except for an absurdist, fairly horrifying penultimate scene in an earthen tunnel, the narrative has a weak grip, and the book moves under the power of its transparent intent and tonedrone. Maybe the French like this sort of thing; the book won the Prix Femina. From here though, considering the starchy polemic and the was-it-all-a-bad-dream? ending (ugh), this is strictly a crackerjack-box-type goody.

Pub Date: Nov. 23rd, 1977
Publisher: Harper & Row