Raymond Queneau

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )

, /10

Raymond Queneau (1903)

"Le Chiendent" (1933) +

"Les Enfants du Limon" (1938)

"Pierrot mon Ami" (1942) +

"Loin de Rueil" (1944)

"Exercices de Style" (1947)

"On est Toujours Troup Bon avec les Femmes" (1947)

"Le Dimanche de la Vie" (1951)

"Zazie dans le Metro" (1959) is an absurdist comic novel mostly told in street slang through dialogues between ordinary folks. Queneau indulges in and casually mixes mispelled words, ungrammatical sentences, street profanities and philosophical thoughts. The strike of the metro becomes a metaphysical element, a symbol of impotence and chaos. Unfortunately, Queneau doesn't seem to know how to end the girl's odyssey and the novel ends up missing the "punch line" that would turn it into something more than a jovial romp.

The stout Gabriel picks up his ten-years old niece Zazie at the train station of the capital. Her mother, who lives in the countryside, entrusted her to him for a few days. They drive home in the cab of Gabriel's best friend Charles. The city is paralyzed by a strike of metro workers. The child is eloquent and has a sadistic side: she wants to become a teacher simply to persecute other children; or an astronaut so she can molest the Martians. Gabriel and his wife Marceline rent a flat from Turandot above their bistro. Turandot does not welcome the child in his establishment, Gabriel tells Zazie that he works as a night watchman to explain why he sleeps during the day, but, when he leaves for work, Marceline reminds him to take his lipstick...
While Gabriel is asleep, Zazie runs out of the bistro. Turandot chases her but she outsmarts him by screaming that he is trying to rape her. She is such a good actress that people begin to assemble around them, threatening to beat up Turandot. He escapes back to the bistro and Marceline wakes up Gabriel. The metro is still on strike. The girl, disappointed that she cannot ride the metro, sits at the entrance of a station crying by herself. A man approaches her. She immediately accuses him of being a child molester but then starts chatting with him. She tells him that her dad was an alcoholic, one day he tried to rape her, her mother has a lover who is a butcher, the butcher gave her mother an axe and her mother killed her father with the axe. Then the butcher also started molesting her and this time her mother simply kicked him out. Then her mother found another lover and that's why she sent Zazie to live with her uncle Gabriel. The stranger drags her through a flea market. She is ready to make the same scene that scared Turandot away but the man outsmarts her by screaming first that she's a thief who just tried to steal her parcel (which in fact he bought for her). She's caught off guard. From his tone of voice she guesses that he must be a cop. He takes her home, where he accuses Gabriel of pimping the little girl. Gabriel, outraged, reveals his real profession: he dresses like a ballerina in night clubs.
Now the stranger understands that Zazie's mother trusts Gabriel because he is gay. While he might be correct about the reason why the woman trusts Gabriel with a sexy little girl, Gabriel protests that he is not gay and in fact he is actually married (to Marceline, whom never appears in the novel).
The stranger decides to stay at the bistro and the neighborhood begins to gossip. The shopkeeper across the street from the bistro, Gridoux, interrogates Turandot's servant Mado about the stranger. Mado is Charles' lover and has been waiting in vain for him to propose. Gridoux confronts the stranger, who admits that he doesn't remember his name nor his address. Gridoux shows him the way to the nearest metro station even though the metro is still on strike.
Gabriel and Charles decide to give a tour of Paris to Zazie, but they are terrible tour guides, often confusing one monument with another. Eventually, Charles gets annoyed by Zazie's attitude and leaves them. Zazie heard the "cop" (the amnesiac) say that Gabriel must be a homosexual so she keeps asking him to clarify, without quite knowing what the word means. Wandering around the city, they stumble in another friend of Gabriel's, Fyodor, who is a real tour guide for foreign tourists. His bus occupants come to believe that Gabriel is an expert in the Sainte-Chapelle and literally kidnap him, leaving Zazie behind. A lady, who turns out to be a widow named Mouaque, notices the event and calls a cop. The cop, Trouscaillon, and the lady flag down a car and launch on a car chase, except that the traffic is terrible due to the strike of the metro. Monique falls in love with Trouscaillon while they slowly approach the Sainte-Chapelle, which also happens to be the destination of the driver, who also happens to recognize Zazie. They finally catch up with Fyodor's group and therefore with Gabriel, who is thoroughly enjoying his role of tour guide. Cop and widow leave, but soon the cop leaves the widow alone again despite blooming love between them. The widow sees that Zazie is also alone: Gabriel is off with his tourists and she has to join them again for dinner and then for Gabriel's homosexual show. Meanwhile Charles the taxi driver proposed to Madeleine the servant. Gabriel phones them to join for the show. The cop, disguised again as the fake cop who took Zazie home, breaks into Gabriel's apartment while Marceline is home alone and declares his passion for her, even stating that he will simply rape her if she doesn't fall in love with him. This time he introduces himself as a real cop, Bertin, who also tells her that he has a second identity, as a traffic cop, under which he was just seduced by a widow. Marceline manages to flee with a suitcase.
Everybody is at Gabriel's night show except for Trouscaillon/Bertin and Fyodor the bus driver who wait outside. Finally, the show is over and the tourists embark on Fyodor's bus. Charles takes Madeleine home. Zazie, Gabriel and his friends recognize Trouscaillon is the cop who took Zazie home, now called Bertin without sunglasses and without moustaches. He is soon mysteriously kidnapped by other cops.
The widow is heartbroken. Zazie is sleepy, and, when she's not, she keeps calling Gabriel a homosexual, which he vehemently denies. They have onion soup. Gabriel gets into a colossal fight with the waiters, aided by Turandot, Gridoux and even the widow. Gabriel wins, but the place is soon surrounded by armored divisions of night watchmen. The widow dies, Zazie faints. The usual cop, now calling himself Haroun the prince of the world, walks in. Gabriel and his friends flee. The metro is now working. They scatter. Gabriel manages to deliver Zazie to the train station in perfect time, and she happily rejoins her mother, who has just dumped her boyfriend in a hotel room. The person who accompanies Zazie is Marceline, except that now she's a man, Marcel: so maybe Gabriel is a homosexual after all...

"Les Fleurs Bleues" (1963)

"Le Vol d'Icare" (1968)

"Petite Cosmogonie Portative" (1950) [p]

"Si Tu t'Imagines" (1952) [p]

"Cent Mille Milliards de Poemes" (1961) [p]

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )