Jeffrey Keeten's Reviews > The Last Days

The Last Days by Raymond Queneau
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May 27, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: the-french, existentialism
Read from May 27 to June 02, 2012

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Raymond Queneau

In the 1920s Raymond Queneau went to Paris for his final days of formal education. He kept a detailed journal of his time there and in 1936 he wrote this autobiographical novel based on those years as a student in Paris. Times had changed. In 1936 the threat of imminent war hung over Europe, and so even though he was writing about relatively carefree student days in Paris the tinge of the times he was experiencing in 1936 had an influence on the novel. Calling the 1920s The Last Days I think definitely indicates the state of mind of not only Queneau, but the French people in general. They were starting to understand that the The War to End all Wars was going to be indicated with a roman numeral very soon.

Monsieur Brabbant and Monsier Tolut are standing together watching it rain. They are of the older generation represented in this novel. Both could be considered con men, but of different stripes. Brabbant is intent on achieving the big score by hook or by crook. Tolut is mired in guilt for all the years he taught school children geography and yet didn't know a blessed thing about the subject.

"You'd think it was oil, wouldn't you? Personally, I don't call this weather, I call it oil."
"What d'you expect--its been like this ever since the war. The shells have played havoc with the seasons. Think back to the prewar Octobers. There was real rain, then. And the sun, where there was sun, it was real sun. Whereas these days it's all mixed up--the dishcloths with the napkins and Christmas with Midsummer. These days there's nothing to tell you when to wear your overcoat or when to leave it off."


Vincent Tuquedenne our hero and the character representing the young Raymond Queneau arrives in Paris. He is very serious about reading, but not very serious about his studies. When Vincent Tuquedenne got off the Le Havre train he was shy, an individualist, an anarchist and an atheist. He didn't wear glasses 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.

Vincent has friends, but he does not seek them out. He doesn't mind people he just prefers books. His head is permanently clouded with ideas and his friends misinterpret his impression of them.
And Turquedenne?
Oh him! We don't see him much these days. We only meet him by chance. And then he looks down on us from the heights of his grandeur. No kidding. We are only poor unfortunate medical students, whereas he reads Saint Thomas in Latin and knows which way up to look at a cubist painting. It's obvious; you can see why he despises us.
In truth, Turquedenne has his own issues. He can't get laid. He doesn't seem to understand the concept of wooing. He feels that romantic love is a cosmic event where his presence is all that is necessary for a woman to fall into his arms. He also inexplicably fails his first exams.

Alfred is by far my favorite character in the book. He is a waiter who has spent an enormous amount of time conceiving a system involving the planets that will allow him to successfully retrieve his family money that was squandered at the race track by his father. He does provide help to the slippery Monsieur Brabbant also know as Martin-Martin. Whenever Brabbant dreams a new scheme he races over to Alfred for guidance.

The older generations, as they begin to attend the funerals of their contemporaries, naturally, become obsessed with dying and the afterlife. Queneau uses their maudlin state of mind to explore what comes next.
Let me tell you, monsieur, that while hell may perhaps exist heaven certainly does not exist.
That's very sad, what you've just said.
Sad but true.
I wonder how you came to think such things.
My whole life has led me think that. What if I was mistaken though? What if, on the other hand, my whole life...You think it exists, heaven? I'm asking you as man to man, I'm asking you for an honest answer.
It doesn't exist.


The novel explores the generational rift exposing the thorns of the older generation and the uncertainty of the younger generation. This novel can be read on many different levels. You can read it as a novel of philosophical ideas or you can read it as a pleasant autobiographical novel of a bright young man coming of age in Paris. I can tell the book will gain weight with each reread. It has certainly inspired me to read more Raymond Queneau. I also find the pictures that Queneau had taken below to be...intriguing.

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Reading Progress

09/21/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-25 of 25) (25 new)

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message 1: by MJ (new) - rated it 4 stars

MJ Nicholls Great summary! I'm a bit fed up recommending Queneau (how did that happen?) but once again I nominate Pierrot Mon Ami or Zazie.


Jeffrey Keeten MJ wrote: "Great summary! I'm a bit fed up recommending Queneau (how did that happen?) but once again I nominate Pierrot Mon Ami or Zazie."

Thanks MJ! I will definitely put your recommendations on my list. I'm really curious to read something else by him.


message 3: by Traveller (new)

Traveller I find the period immediately pre-dating WW2 very intriguing, and have realized of late that I haven't read nearly as much about the period as I would like to.

Interesting review, thanks! Those photo's at the end- are they of himself?


Jeffrey Keeten Traveller wrote: "I find the period immediately pre-dating WW2 very intriguing, and have realized of late that I haven't read nearly as much about the period as I would like to.

Interesting review, thanks! Those p..."


The pictures are of Queneau, rather odd aren't they? I couldn't resist putting them in the review.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Great review Jeffrey. I am so glad you kept telling me this was a novel because it sounded like a memoir. May I compliment you on the incredible scope of your reading. I had not even heard of this author. Your review prompted me to read the main entry for this work, and it described the character as a guy trying to read his way out of the petite bourgeoisie to which he belonged. Sounds like me; I think I'll read this. Thanks for your review and for bringing it to my attention.


Jeffrey Keeten Steve wrote: "Great review Jeffrey. I am so glad you kept telling me this was a novel because it sounded like a memoir. May I compliment you on the incredible scope of your reading. I had not even heard of thi..."

Thanks Steve. This was a difficult book to review. I felt like I was describing a Seinfeld episode. A book about nothing and everything. I have to give credit to MJ and Geoff for getting me in the loop with Queneau.


message 7: by Traveller (new)

Traveller Jeffrey wrote: "The pictures are of Queneau, rather odd aren't they? I couldn't resist putting them in the review.
..."


Oh yes, very, they are quite intriguing indeed! I'm glad you put them in, they provide one with a bit of a puzzle as to exactly what they are meant to convey. It seems to reveal a rather... experimental? streak in him?


message 8: by MJ (new) - rated it 4 stars

MJ Nicholls Queneau was that most cherished of personalities: an eccentric French intellectual with a great sense of humour and playfulness. Those photos are very normal in Queneauland.


message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Jeffrey wrote: "Steve wrote: "Great review Jeffrey. I am so glad you kept telling me this was a novel because it sounded like a memoir. May I compliment you on the incredible scope of your reading. I had not eve..."

So, you think you may be the first person in KS to have read this???:) Maybe the entire Midwest? If so, I'll be the second.


message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

Traveller wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "The pictures are of Queneau, rather odd aren't they? I couldn't resist putting them in the review.
..."

Oh yes, very, they are quite intriguing indeed! I'm glad you put them in, t..."

They look like the pictures in the New York Review of Books to which I subscribed at one time.


Jeffrey Keeten Steve wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "Steve wrote: "Great review Jeffrey. I am so glad you kept telling me this was a novel because it sounded like a memoir. May I compliment you on the incredible scope of your reading..."

I wouldn't doubt it a bit. First of all he is French and by definition weird and perverted so no one in Kansas except maybe Kemper up in Kansas City would even take a crack at experimental fiction like this. It makes me realize how much I've neglected the French intellectuals. I need to make sure they are a steady part of my reading diet.


Jeffrey Keeten Traveller wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "The pictures are of Queneau, rather odd aren't they? I couldn't resist putting them in the review.
..."

Oh yes, very, they are quite intriguing indeed! I'm glad you put them in, t..."


If you google him and click over to images you will see even more unusual playful pictures of him. The more I dig around about him the more interesting he is becoming.


Jeffrey Keeten MJ wrote: "Queneau was that most cherished of personalities: an eccentric French intellectual with a great sense of humour and playfulness. Those photos are very normal in Queneauland."

Thanks MJ for giving me the heads up on this guy. Goodreads is making me poor financially, but enriching my mind by leaps and bounds.


message 14: by Bennet (new) - added it

Bennet Seinfeld, no kidding, this sounds hilarious, not that there's anything wrong with that. And something about it reminds me of
Measuring the World by Daniel KehlmannMeasuring the World

,which since reading I've been longing to replace with another oddball story about vintage-intellectual eccentrics. Thanks, Jeffrey, and I recommend MTW, though likely you've already read it. :)


Jeffrey Keeten Bennet wrote: "Seinfeld, no kidding, this sounds hilarious, not that there's anything wrong with that. And something about it reminds me of
Measuring the World by Daniel KehlmannMeasuring the World

,which since readin..."


Thank you Bennet. No, in fact, I have not read MTW, but it sounds perfect for me. I found a copy on abebooks my home away from home.


message 16: by B0nnie (new) - added it

B0nnie Yes those Queneau pictures are intriguing. More than intriguing - they do not at all look like a person "hamming it up" but a distortion of that act. They seem to be a mockery of the tragic. A mockery that knows it's losing. Well I can't really explain it, but let's just say they are terribly interesting.


Jeffrey Keeten B0nnie wrote: "Yes those Queneau pictures are intriguing. More than intriguing - they do not at all look like a person "hamming it up" but a distortion of that act. They seem to be a mockery of the tragic. A moc..."

I was struck by them as well and knew that I had to tag them onto my review somehow. Queneau must have been quite...interesting.


message 18: by Lawyer (new)

Lawyer Intriguing. Note to self. Add Queaneau to reading list. Call architect to shore up foundation, particularly under library. Have complete physical. Add a good multi-vitamin. Centrum for Seniors. Get new tri-focals. Yep. That oughtta do it. It's hard, so hard keeping up with Keeten. But always a pleasure.


Jeffrey Keeten Mike wrote: "Intriguing. Note to self. Add Queaneau to reading list. Call architect to shore up foundation, particularly under library. Have complete physical. Add a good multi-vitamin. Centrum for Senior..."

Yes, Mike I definitely want you implementing all those life extending measures because I want you sharing book thoughts for a long, long time. I've already decided I need to live to be 125 just to make a dent in what I want to get read. Since writing this review I have received a lot of great feedback on other Queneau books. I become more and more intrigued by the strange little Frenchman.


message 20: by Vessey (new) - added it

Vessey I'm so happy that I'm again the first one to comment!

While hell may perhaps exist heaven certainly does not exist.

Jeffrey, this instantly brought to my mind what Louis says in “Interview with the Vampire”:

“People who cease to believe in God or goodness altogether still believe in the devil... Evil is always possible. And goodness is eternally difficult.”

And this:

Vincent has friends, but he does not seek them out. He doesn't mind people he just prefers books.

I know that there are such people in real life and this has always bothered me. Books are valuable because of the way they relate to real life. They are support system and if we choose to ignore the rest of the world, they lose their meaning. I have always felt confused by such thinking. Then again, I think that maybe the answer is in this sentence:

His head is permanently clouded with ideas and his friends misinterpret his impression of them.

Maybe people like that are this way, because they feel that they can’t find anything of substance in reality. But even so, even if it’s not a matter of choice, but one of disappointment and desperation, the fact that the literary world loses its value if you cannot attach it to the other one stays. I wouldn’t have been able to read if I had lost the urge to connect and belong.

Thank you so much for this lovely, fabulous review, you sweet man. I listed the book.


message 21: by Lynne (last edited Sep 21, 2016 11:39AM) (new)

Lynne King Jeffrey, Ah Raymond Queneau. I read him at university and for some obscure reason we read Zazie in the Metro. Well I just loved the book - completely zany too!

You have to realize that the French are unique. Since living here I've come across a world that is so different from England. Individuals here search for freedom and the spoken word; also the joy of living life to the full. When did that last happen in the UK? Perhaps when Enoch Powell was around?


Jeffrey Keeten Vessey wrote: "I'm so happy that I'm again the first one to comment!

While hell may perhaps exist heaven certainly does not exist.

Jeffrey, this instantly brought to my mind what Louis says in “Interview with t..."


When I was in the book business I met several Vincent type people. They have tried at life, but find the world of books a much more comforting place to spend time. If you are lonely, books can imperfectly fill in the gaps normally occupied by friends and family. I agree books are much more meaningful if you are able to wrap them around a life of adventures, but sometimes that just isn't possible for some people for numerous reasons. I'm glad you enjoyed the review and found so many quotes to relate to. Thanks Vessey!


Jeffrey Keeten Lynne wrote: "Jeffrey, Ah Raymond Queneau. I read him at university and for some obscure reason we read Zazie in the Metro. Well I just loved the book - completely zany too!

You have to realize tha..."


The French have always seemed uniquely free to me. Work is secondary or maybe a third concern compared to the pursuit of pleasure. Feeling as trapped as I do I sometimes wish I could live with less restraint. Here in the states we work hard to insure we have a comfortable retirement, but then discover that we've given away our youth making other men rich. I'm in the midst of trying to downshift and put other priorities before work, but it is a difficult transition filled with trepidation. I think it is damn cool that you read Queneau at University. While getting my English Lit degree I wish I had taken a French literature class.


message 24: by Lynne (last edited Sep 21, 2016 12:03PM) (new)

Lynne King French literature Jeffrey is a killer! Different interpretations of the spoken word and many "false friends". I certainly admire any literary translator.


Jeffrey Keeten Lynne wrote: "French literature Jeffrey is a killer! Different interpretations of the spoken word and many "false friends". I certainly admire any literary translator."

I've heard that before about translating French. I too admire translators. They have plenty of critics. :-)


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