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Lila Says: A Novel Hardcover – January 11, 1999
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From Publishers Weekly
The tragedy of chronic unemployment and hopelessness among North African youth in contemporary France explodes in this anonymous first novel that has garnered front-page attention in Europe. Purportedly, the author?"Chimo," the 19-year-old narrator of the doomed blue-collar love story?wrote this account in two school notebooks delivered to the publisher by a lawyer. In a note, the publisher confesses that opinion in the house was divided between those who thought the author was a poorly educated but talented young person or an experienced writer perpetrating a hoax. Fatherless, poor and, like most of his friends in the Old Oak Housing Project near Paris, without a job or prospects, Chimo finds that writing about Lila, a 16-year-old girl who befriends him, transports him from the bleakness of his life. Chimo is an unremarkable, shy and sensitive boy; Lila's angelic looks are in stunning contrast to the precocious fantasies about sex that she shares with him. An enigma in the projects because of her blonde hair, blue eyes, Christian faith and elusiveness, as well as the crazy, devil-fearing aunt with whom she lives, Lila confides only in Chimo. Is she a hustler working for rich men in the city or just a confused kid whose fantasies serve as her own method of escape, much as Chimo's secret nocturnal writing acts as his? Prurience aside?and there is plenty of it?Chimo's simple narrative aches with the writer's yearning for self-expression, and frustration at being "excluded" from the language: "You always feel you're sailing right by a green island you can't get close to... an island stuffed with wonderful fruits, words that people pick for themselves and feast on... but not you, never you." Revelation or hoax, its melodramatic ending a shocking surprise, the work of this writer resonates powerfully. (Jan.) FYI: His identity still unknown, Chimo has published a second novel in France.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
This was a best seller in France, but will it go over here? Since it's described as a "raw, voyeuristic tale of sexual discovery in a Parisian ghetto," it might well have a chance. The identity of the author, who wrote pseudonymously, sparked some lively conversations in France.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
Lila (with whom Chimo the narrator is obsessed) is a breathtakingly sexual character who both excited and dismayed me as a reader; her burgeoning sexuality reminded me of my own puberty, the main difference being that she takes her sexual desires almost to the brink of nymphomania (indeed, describing a sexual encounter with the devil is one flight of fancy that i have yet to take.)
The narrative style is similar to that of JD Salinger's Holden, and 'Lila Says's' protagonist holds many similarities with Salingers' creation. They share the same adolescent doubts and emotional turmoils that will be familiar to those that can remember their teenage years and the free flowing, often barely structured narrative, keeps you reading with the same fervour and hunger that you would feel if you'd accidently got hold of a close friends diary, (indeed there is some controversy about the origins of the book but many believe that the manuscript was indeed a genuine diary, thus explaining this.)
Despite Chimo's lack of education and, frankly, bleak future, you really do care about what happens to him within a very few pages of the book. Similarly, Chimo paints Lila's character in such a way that you are quickly both in awe and slighly repelled by her beauty and morally reprehensible sexual conduct (be it imagined or otherwise.)
I would recommend this book to readers with voyueristic tendencies, but it is certainly not for the faint hearted- (even i blanched at the description of being anally buggered!)
But certainly do pick it up and have a go, and if it appeals, try Salinger's 'The Catcher in the Rye' for a book of similar format and themes yet minus the sex, rape and violence.
This book caused quite a stir when it was first published in France, and after reading it, I understood why. For one, it was raw, gritty, scathing, erotic to the point of pornography (at least the English translation is), and pretty tragic.
It begins with Chimo, a nineteen-year-old Arab boy, unemployed, bored, with little better to do with his frieds than steal, trash the day, the government, and...um...jerk off (Chimo's words, not mine!).
So in all this bleakness and despair comes Lila, a sixteen year-old with angelic good looks, a killer smile, a hyperreligious background...and a load of demonically steamy tales of her "exploits".
She talks only to Chimo, fanning his friends' resentment, telling him of what she does, who she's been with, and performs a feat on him (by bike) that a master gymnast couldn't manage.
Her sex-stemmed stories and fantasies offer a sort of brief...escape, inspiring him, and he writes, unsteadily at first, the more secure, building it up, hurriedly, breathlessly, until it's clear it can't go on any longer...
This book has been written off by critics as a sort of voyeuristic pleasure, porno, and a naive attempt at social satire. I think it's mostly the translation's fault, because (from previous readings), that anything sweet and innocent in French will almost inevitably sound cynical and sarcastic in English. I'll have to say this was the case, but it differed little from the original, and it's one you'll see sticking out of many backpacks.
Pornography? Perhaps, but it's more than that.
The story is written in a stream-of-consciousness style (think Mrs. Dalloway), so if you're into that, you should definitely read this one. Chimo takes us into the slums and lives of people you would probably otherwise not know about, and concludes with a tragic (though rash) ending. There's a lot of sexual content throughout the novel, so be prepared for that. It might excite some and displease others, but keep an open mind because this is just how slum dwellers must live.
I wish there was more information about the anonymous author, and whether this was based on a true story or something. But I guess that mystery adds to the book's appeal. Go and read it!