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Odile Paperback – January 1, 1999

3.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

One of the author's early works, this charming, semi-autobiographical novel was written before Queneau developed the highly intellectualized style that became his trademark. Like Queneau, who became involved with the Surrealists in the mid-'20s after military service in North Africa, the narrator, Roland Travy, joins a group headed by a flamboyant individual named Anglares (a disguised portrait of surrealist Andre Breton). Queneau takes deliciously funny stabs at his "fellow revolutionaries of the unconscious," describing their flirtation with communism and, ultimately, Travy's break with the group. In the meantime, Travy marries Odile, a sunny but flakey young woman from a similar bourgeois background, but their relationship is too bizarre even for the Surrealists. Written in a cool detached style, full of witticisms and puns, this is Queneau at his most accessible.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"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

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 119 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press (January 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564782093
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564782090
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.4 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,459,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Roland Travy states that he was not born until his twenty-first year. It is while in the French army that year that he sees an Arab man gazing at the land and sky. Travy likens him to a poet or a philsopher and it is this image that begins to awaken his true inner being. Arriving back in Paris he falls in with Communist bohemian artists, political anarchists, pimps, and thugs. This is also where he meets Odile. In the end he accepts who he really is.
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.
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Format: Paperback
This 1937 novella is an autobiographical work, transposing, through the narrator-hero Roland Travy, Queneau's disjointed life in 1920s Paris - his rejection of his bourgeois background; his living in Paris; his military service; his struggles with his art.
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.
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Format: Paperback
Odile lacks Queneau's usual almost manic inventiveness, but it is charming and gentle, and seems largely autobiographical, so it's nice to be given some insights into Queneau's early life, his formative years as it were.

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.
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I'm a big big fan of Godard, and as soon as I knew his movie Band of Outsiders was inspired in some things by this novel (including Anna Karina character's name), I immediately ordered it.

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.
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