Jacob's Reviews > We Always Treat Women Too Well

We Always Treat Women Too Well by Raymond Queneau
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's review
Mar 26, 2011

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bookshelves: fiction-and-literature, i-own, nyrb, 2010-2011
Read from May 18 to 26, 2011

"Yes, my girl, it means that you've got to keep quiet."
"About what? Why?"
"We’re heroes, and not swine. Got it?"
"Of course you've got it. If it hadn't been for you we'd have been dead without any trouble, but, just because you went to have a pee at the precise moment of our insurrection, our glory may well be tarnished by vile gossip and filthy slander."
(We Always Treat Women Too Well, p. 163)

Funny how going to the loo at the wrong time can ruin everyone's day. It's 1916, the Easter Rising, and seven Irish rebels have just seized a Dublin post office. Their goal: to win independence, or die gloriously trying. But they didn't count on Gertie Girdle--pure, virginal Gertie Girdle--who, despite being engaged (to Commodore Cartwright, whose ship has orders to bombard the post office and the rebels inside) manages to outsmart, and out-sex, the hapless rebels who have taken her (or has she taken them?) prisoner. For King and country, of course. Of course.

The nice thing about the New York Review of Books is that it keeps introducing me to writers I never would've found, much less read, on my own: see John Williams; see J. F. Powers. But I've noticed an unusual consequence (Quirk? Downside?) of that: while NYRB publishes little-known (to me, at least) writers, it often publishes little-known (to me, at least) books by better-known writers, too. Evan S. Connell had his Mrs. and Mr. Bridge novels, so why would I start off with The Diary of a Rapist? Surely Christopher Priest has more accessible (and less confusing) novels than The Inverted World. And who chooses to read Brigadier Gerard over Sherlock Holmes? This guy, that’s who.

See also: Raymond Queneau. The writer of Exercises in Style is hardly known for writing We Always Treat Women Too Well--in fact, it was ignored by "serious" Queneau fans/scholars for twenty years after its publication--and yet this is where I decided to start. And it's a funny little novel. Queneau wrote it as a parody (satire? send-up?) of trashy '40s-era pulp fiction, with all the smut and filth intact. Sex and violence occur in droves, often simultaneously (including, in one case, a mid-coital decapitation via well-placed cannon shell), the line between rape and consent is blurred, and swearing abounds. It's less shocking now than (I imagine) it was then, and it's funnier than it has a right to be (Queneau is a great writer; Barbara Wright is a great translator), and it's still a strange book to start with if one wants to read Raymond Queneau. But if the rest of his work is as clever (and strange, and amusing) as this smutty parody of cheap smut, then I'll definitely have to add the rest of his work (especially Exercises in Style, right?) to my reading list.

And maybe Ulysses too, just to get all the Joyce jokes peppered throughout...but let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
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09/21/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Wait, have you read no Joyce?

message 2: by Jacob (last edited May 27, 2011 09:32PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jacob Dubliners, yeah, but no Ulysses or Portrait of the Artist or the others. A lot of the characters in this book share names with minor characters in Ulysses, and the rebels use "finnegans wake!" as their secret password, and there are probably a bunch of jokes and references I missed. There was also a line I forgot to add to the review:

"Well well," said Caffrey, "We're certainly learning some new words today. Anyone can see we're in the land of James Joyce."(1)

(1) There is a slight anachronism here, but Caffrey, being illiterate, could not have known in 1916 that Ulysses had not yet appeared. -S.M.

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Ah. I haven't read Ulysses or FW either, so okay. Dubliners is amazing, though.

Jacob I was a bit indifferent to it the first time around, but yeah, it's good. Need to read it again though.

Jacob I know. The original French title was On est toujours trop bon avec les femmes, but the direct translation doesn't sound as good. I think French novels should keep their original titles--I mean, you wouldn't be caught reading "The Miserables," would you?

message 6: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Jacob wrote: "Dubliners, yeah, but no Ulysses or Portrait of the Artist or the others"


I punked out on rereading Ulysses this year, anyway. But Portrait is great, even if Stephen turns into an asshole.

message 7: by MJ (new) - rated it 4 stars

MJ Nicholls As someone who has read almost all of Queneau, I wouldn't entirely recommend it: lots of his books are very similar. Pierrot, Children of Clay and Zazie are winners, though!

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