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The Bad Life: A Memoir Paperback – March 2, 2010
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An elegant and pensive meditation, largely centering on Mitterand's many friendships, including those with a doomed young aristocrat, an AIDS-stricken American cinephile and the great Catherine Deneuve. There is something ineffably Gallic about Mitterrand's attitude toward the events of his own life: a combination of fatalism, philosophical resignation, unapologetic love of the finer things and a penchant for introspection.” WaPo
"Movie stars, famous artists, tycoons, powerful politiciansthese characters are all present in this stunning book, which is saved from being a celebrity memoir by its moral depth, its beautiful writing and its relentless honesty. Frédéric Mitterrand (as his name might suggest) has known everyone of importance, but he approaches every subject with sensitivity and a reckless candor." Edmund White
About the Author
Frederic Mitterrand is a writer, television personality, filmmaker, and gay rights activist. In 2009, he was appointed Minister of Culture and Communication by French president Nicolas Sarkozy. He lives in France. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Recently, an insignificant international incident briefly brought FM's book back in the francophone public's eyes, and, hopefully, the loose ends of the incident will also bring this delicate work to the attention of the general English-speaking readership.
The English edition of "The Bad Life" now sports the subtitle, "A Memoir," thus specifying the style and scope of this literary work. The author himself has been ambiguous about the nature of his writing, denying it to be autobiographical, while at the same time that it is a fictional novel. Whatever the classification, while some of the book's incidents may be imagined, many certainly recount actual events in the author's life, and provide a retrospective contemplation of their meanings.
The French as well as the English titles are also ambiguous and misleading. The word "mauvaise" in the French title--translated as "bad" in the English title--does not imply any moral judgment at all about the life it describes. Rather, the word implies that, as in the case of drawing the wrong number in a lottery or the wrong card from a deck, there is a right life, where everything in it fits the subject, and a wrong life, where it doesn't, the latter having been dealt to the author.
No matter what we label it, this quasi-memoir is certainly not a confession, a "coming out" book, where the author reveals his until now secret sexual preference. Mitterrand never made any secret of his preferences, and his intention is not now to shock his public with a sexual revelation. It is just that the genre, memoir, is perfectly suited for confidences. Actually, if FM does reveal anything new about himself, it is a kind of masochism and the way his life always seems to take him away from his real desires.
The recalled events are not presented in a chronological order, but follow a certain continuous, if somewhat stochastic, timeline, which nevertheless links them together. The story evolves from the present to the present via a convoluted but somewhat logical path where the past mixes itself with the present and whose fluidity always surprises the reader.
The book opens with FM's adoption of a young Moroccan boy and ends with the burial of one of FM's ex-lovers. In between, there are some events relating him to the cinema, some bittersweet memories of two of his housekeepers in his early years, the heart-rending story of a missed affair with an American gentleman, and the touching portraits of a famous actress and a woman writer whom he never names (you will have to guess who they are). He also describes his experience in the red light districts of Bangkok and Jakarta, the latter account having given rise to the imbroglio with one of his political detractors. But the very heart of this memoir and the common thread of these somewhat disparate stories is the discovery by a young bourgeois, born in 1947, of his different sexuality and its resulting hurts, which kept him away from the rest of us.
In the 1960s, homosexuality was still socially unacceptable to French society. This stigma forces FM into a "permanent state of alert," as he falls in love with some of his friends and suffers in silence, as these possible moments of happiness escape him. Later, as an adult in a society which has became more tolerant, he seems pursued by a fate that attaches him to men who do not return his love. However, there is still the solution of "paying for the boys," despite the "sinister farce" that this encourages. This is how he protects himself--"Love and sex, I am at the heart of my system; the one that finally succeeds, because I will not be turned down." FM does not delude himself with these transactions, writing, "The worst consequence implanted at the heart of this story is the contempt, that of the boy for the guy who pays and that of the guy who pays for the boy." Regarding the word "boy" (garçon) used by FM, it is relative to the age difference between him and the young men whom he solicits: when a tout proposes FM "young boys, no trouble, very safe," FM declines. Although in the past decade the perception of the facts related to these events has changed remarkably, we can nonetheless surmise that FM must now be disgusted by the arrogance and vulgarity brought about by this current permissiveness.
The writing is brilliant. I read "The Bad Life" in its original French version, French being my first language, and therefore I cannot judge the accuracy of its translation into English. Frédéric Mitterrand's writing is relatively simple and fluid, hardly romanticized, and above all elegant. He always finds "le mot juste," as the funambulist finds the right step to proceed along the suspended rope. His prose, full of melancholy, regrets, and remorse is deeply moving, even distressing at times, but there are no ostentatious confessions or narcissistic displays in these pages. Mitterrand does not hide his bitter disappointments and miseries, but neither does he ever dwell on the dark side.
The primary theme of this book is separation: the separation of human beings, of worlds, of lifestyles. Above all else, the book is about the sharpest rift he experiences, what relentlessly and deeply eats at him, separating who he is from whom he wished he could have been. In fact, this is HIS "bad life," a life that he judges not to have been up to his expectations, or worthy of his investment of time. He writes about a life that he took "on the move," because one does not choose one's life, and one's destiny is what it is: one must simply make do, as Mitterrand did, with modesty and dignity, and a maximum of humility and humanity.
In this memoir, Mitterrand opens his heart, revealing himself in total sincerity, without ambiguity. How can we not be appreciative of sharing the intimate confidences of a friend? By now, you will have guessed my opinion of this remarkable and delicate work, which I highly recommend, giving it 5 stars.