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Odile Paperback – January 1, 1999
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A marvelous sendup of the Surrealists of the late 1920s and early 1930s as well as a moving love story....Both a madcap roman a clef... and a parable about the search for spiritual equilibrium and human meaning." -- Kirkus
"Written in a cool detached style, full of witticisms and puns, this is Queneau at his most accessible." -- PW
Top Customer Reviews
Queneau does a brillant job of showing the absurdity and humor in everything that happens in Odile. From the beginning there's a laugh when Roland states that his fellow soldiers "are really good guys and all capable no doubt of making really good butchers". The bohemians are seen as ineffectual idiots more interested in preaching to their own circle of disciples than improving the common people. They're the same posers you see nowadays in cafes preaching to each other about the sad state of humanity but having no effect upon their fate. Roland sees all this but goes along with the different movements, at least superficially. At one point he visits a seance where the spirit of Lenin is summoned and as he walks out he comments how pathetic the spectacle was. Even Roland is guilty, spending 8-12 hours a day in his apartment working with mathematical problems. He has spent years in the belief that he is a latter day Isacc Newton or an Einstein who will discover the true nature of reality through mathematics and physics. He's also too proud to admit he's in love with Odile. It wouldn't be in keeping with his image if anyone knew he was in love. At the end of the book he has a vision of what he truly is and he snaps out of the childish games of his adulthood.
This novel is funny, and I mean that in the humorous sense.Read more ›
Travy, returned from two years military service in a mostly clerical position, subsists in Paris on an allowance from a gay, ex-colonial uncle, conducting obscure mathematical research, lost in a fug of solipsism, passivity and a lack of self-esteem. He drifts in with a group of petty criminals, where he meets another bourgeois abscondee, Odile, and, with equal passivity, gets involved with the Infrapsychics, an eccentric group of intellectuals who hope to provoke revolution through liberating the unconscious and the irrational.
For such a small book, 'Odile' is many things: a damning account of French colonialism in North Africa - the opening scenes depicting the crushing of a local rebellion in Morocco are frightening precisely because of their un-Tolstoyan vagueness; a satire/critique/fond evocation of political and cultural life in 1920s Paris, all the groups, -isms, infighting, experiments, flirting with Communism - in particular the Surrealists, to whom Queneau was briefly affiliated (he married Andre Breton's sister), relentlessly lampooning their arbitrary games and theories, while admitting the creative debt he owes them; a love story, postponed by a hero who 'despises' bourgeois notions like 'love' and 'marriage'; and the bildungsroman of an artist who goes along with whatever comes his way, be it the army, the Infrapsychics, criminals, Communists etc., always unhappy, but never taking the active step thta might transform his, or reconcile him to, life.Read more ›
But one of my main gripes with the book is that it is overloaded with thinly veiled portraits of actual people, most of whom are scarcely developed. Unless you're thoroughly versed in the milieu of artsy 20's Paris, there's little chance you can satisfactorily follow what's going on. I suspect this book was intended more to be read by Queneau's contemporaries, as a jab at what and who he considered pretentious or downright foolish.
This book has been one of my most enjoyable reads. It's beautiful, clever and ironic. It's also very funny when you know at least a little bit (like me) of the Surrealism movement, especially about Andre Breton.