Manny's Reviews > Zazie dans le métro

Zazie dans le métro by Raymond Queneau
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's review
Feb 14, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: french, well-i-think-its-funny
Read in February, 2009

This book is so funny!!! A perfect antidote to the Hamsun I read immediately before. Though I must say that it seriously tested the limits of my colloquial French... I thought I wasn't too bad at French slang, but this book put me firmly in my place. My edition appeared to be intended for French high school students, and there were many useful footnotes explaining the less obvious pieces of argot, obscure references, and neologisms (Queneau loves making up words). He also has an endearing way of spelling things phonetically for comic effect... you have to read everything aloud to yourself to figure it out.

Given that I'm pretty sure I missed a lot of the humor, it is impressive that I still found myself laughing out loud every three or four pages. A native French speaker would probably have needed oxygen at a few points. The running joke with the parrot for some reason just gets better as the book progresses. 80% of Laverdure's lines are repetitions of "Tu cause, tu cause, c'est tout ce que tu sais faire", but after a while I cracked up every time he said it. I searched the phrase just now on Google, and some clever person has figured out that there are 19 chapters, and the parrot says it 19 times. I'm sure I could read this book once a year for the rest of my life, and still find at least a couple of new Easter eggs on each re-reading.

Here was the passage I enjoyed most. (By the way, apropos comments on French slang above, it's usually much more challenging than this). Nice M. Turandot has foolishly tried to stop Zazie from going out on her own:

Zazie n'hésite pas. Elle se mit à hurler

- Au secours! Au secours!

Ce cri ne manque pas d'attirer l'attention de ménagères et de citoyens présents. Ils abondonnent leurs occupations ou inoccupations personnelles pour s'intéresser à l'incident.
Après ce premier résultat assez satisfaisant, Zazie en remet:

- Je veux pas aller avec le meussieu, je le connais pas le meussieu, je veux aller pas avec le meussieu.

Turandot, sûr de la noblesse de sa cause, fait fi de ces proférations. Il s'aperçoit bien vite qu'il a eu tort en constatant qu'il se trouve au centre d'un cercle de moralistes sévères.
Devant ce publie de choix, Zazie passe de considérations générales aux accusations particulières, précises et circonstanciées.

- Ce meussieu, qu'elle dit comme ça, il m'a dit des choses sales.

- Qu'est-ce qu'il t'a dit? demande une dame alléchée.

- Madame! s'écrie Turandot, cette petite fille s'est sauvée de chez elle. Je la ramenais à ses parents.

Le cercle ricane avec un scepticisme déjà solidement encré.
La dame insiste; elle se penche vers Zazie.

- Allons, ma petite, n'aie pas peur, dis-le-moi ce qu'il t'a dit le villain meussieu?

- C'est trop sale, murmure Zazie.

- Il t'a demandé de lui faire des choses?

- C'est ça, mdame.

Zazie glisse à voix basse quelques détails dans l'oreille de la bonne femme. Celle-ci se redresse et crache à la figure de Turandot.

- Dégueulasse, qu'elle lui jette en plus en prime.

Et elle lui recrache une second fois de nouveau dessus, en plein poire.

Un type s'enquiert:

- Qu'est-ce qu'il lui a demandé de lui faire?

La bonne femme glisse les détails zazique dans l'oreille du type:

- Oh! qu'il fait le type, jamais j'avais pensé à ça.

Il refait comme ça, plûtot pensivement:

- Non, jamais.

Il se tourne vers un autre citoyen:

- Non mais, écoutez-moi ça... (détails). C'est pas croyab.

- Ya vraiment des salauds complets, dit l'autre citoyen.

Cependant, les details se propagent dans la foule. Une femme dit:

- Comprends pas.

Un homme lui explique. Il sort un bout de papier de sa poche et lui faire un dessin avec un stylo à bille.

- Eh bien, dit la femme rêveusement.

Elle ajoute:

- Et c'est pratique?

Elle parle du stylo à bille.
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Reading Progress

02/09/2009 page 9
3.15% "Starts off well! Several good jokes in the first few pages."
02/09/2009 page 30
10.49% "Vraiment élégant ce ptit livre. Mon cul."
02/10/2009 page 45
15.73% "La foire aux puces"
02/10/2009 page 63
22.03% "Zazie a maintenant des bloudjinnzes"
02/10/2009 page 85
29.72% "Le type qui ne le sait par coeur."
02/10/2009 page 85
29.72% "Le type qui ne le sait par coeur."
02/11/2009 page 105
36.71% "Elle veut savoir ce xé un hormosessuel"
02/12/2009 page 130
45.45% "La brasserie du Spheroïd"
02/13/2009 page 140
48.95% "C'est la marida, ça veut dire le conjugo"
02/13/2009 page 150
52.45% "Il faut voir un psittaco-analyste"
07/22/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-22 of 22) (22 new)

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Michelle I loved this book! I didn't know it would be so slap-sticky.

Manny, are you reading it in French?

Manny Yes, in French. His language is so inventive... laugh-out-loud funny every couple of pages. I've just read the bit where she manages to convince everyone that Turandot is a paedophile, and he nearly gets lynched... brilliant!!!

message 3: by C. (new) - rated it 4 stars

C. Sounds plus fort que midable.

(I've been trying to use that joke for weeks)

Manny That's very Zaziesque! I must post some quotes from this book...

message 5: by C. (last edited Feb 10, 2009 12:46PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

C. Vraiment plus fort que midable!

I love seeing French slang in print, too - it's been way too long. Queneau really communicates the rhythm of the language as it's spoken today. Beautiful!

Michelle I love Zazie. Do either of you know why in the English translation her pants are referred to as "blewgenes"? Why the misspelling?

Manny It's spelled "bloudjinnzes" in the French version. Which is phonetically correct, but not the way it's usually spelled :) He loves playing this game with phonetic spellings of words, and it's very funny. There are several examples in the passage I quoted, the bit where Zazie convinces the crowd that M. Turandot is a paedophile.

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

C. Ah! I didn't get that.

Manny I think you read it very quickly. Look at the spelling of "meussieu" for example :)

Queneau clearly loved word-play. He's even more inventive in Exercises de Style.

message 10: by C. (new) - rated it 4 stars

C. Yeah nah I think I got the ones in the text, but totally skimmed 'bloudjinnezes' in the status update. When I don't understand a word, I just skip it. Works in any language.

Manny It's my usual strategy too, but it doesn't work for Queneau. With him, you need to read it out loud :)

Matthieu I remember reading this in the beginning of my junior year. I was in a rather depressed state for some reason*. I remember sitting at home after school feeling sorry for myself, and reading this book. I tried really, really hard not to laugh at Zazie, but I just couldn't do it. I remember marveling at how "alive" she was.

A wonderful little book. Cheered me up.

Also, Manny's right: Exercises de Style is absolutely brilliant.

*Edit: Looking back on it, I'm sure I was upset about the stupid baseball season. I mean, I did cost our team the championship...

Manny Aaargh, sorry about your baseball incident! I did that to my Swedish chess team once, took a while to recover. Wish I'd known about Queneau then. This time, I was suffering from second-degree Hamsun, and my doctor prescribed him as therapy. Yes, impossible not to laugh at Zazie. I think I may give her an extra star, but will wait until I've finished.

message 14: by C. (new) - rated it 4 stars

C. Matthew, have you by any chance read both the English and French versions of Exercises in Style?

message 15: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant Dunno about the book but the film is extraordinarily bad. Avoid.

Manny People don't seem to agree about the film. I haven't seen it. Book is great, now rather more than half-way :)

message 17: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant The film is in my top 20 all time worst movies ever. These are the ones that are so bad they're not even so bad they're good.

Manny Well as you have seen from the comments, a lot of the humour comes from inventive word-play which often relies on the written form of the language. So not clear it would work as a movie, and have no trouble believing it could turn into a complete train-wreck :)

Manny I haven't got to "autobus pistache" yet. Is that in Zazie or in Exercises? I am reading both at the same time... I think I've now read perhaps three-quarters of Exercises. The best ones are indeed very good!

Manny I believe there are 99 exercises, about 200 pages. Oh wait, now I think I do remember "autobus pistage"... maybe it was the one with colours? I will check.

Manny Found it! "Gastronomique", indeed one of the best ones. I liked it so much that I will post it on my Exercises de Style page.

Manny post #18

I have two more extracts there as well, posts #15 and #16.

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