After reading The Last Days by Raymond Queneau, I wonder why he isn’t more widely read. He is more well-known for his classic works, Exercises in Style and Zazie in the Metro, but The Last Days is an autobiographical novel that gives us a cynical and biting commentary about the transition from ‘there is so much’ to ‘is this all there is?’ For the nonconformists out there, how can you not enjoy this opening paragraph to chapter 3:
“When Vincent Tuquedenne got off the Le Havre train he was shy, an individualist, an anarchist and an atheist. He didn’t wear glasses although he was shortsighted, and he was letting his hair grow in order to display his opinions. All this had come to him from reading books, a lot of books, an enormous amount of books.”I, for one, am in.
This novel is set in Paris in the 1920s which, frankly,seems like the only place to have been in the 1920s. Queneau uses a repetition of phrases throughout the novel without disturbing the flow. A difficult task which ultimately makes this work seem modern and inventive.
Vincent attempts to rise above his bourgeois existence through reading and exercising his intellect and in doing so, realizes the pretentions and flaws of his own generation and that of his parents. This doesn’t help Vincent’s outlook on life but in the end he accepts that “A bloody-well-too-bloody cockroach of a depression is sucking the marrow out of his skull.” Haven’t we all been there?
The Last Days
By Raymond Queneau
Translated by the incomparable Barbara Wright
Dalkey Archive Press