Translated by Barbara Wright A novel with an autobiographical basis: the young Queneau's entry into Parisian literary circles. A carefully constructed plot eventually cancels itself out as it circles around the bizarre prophet at its centre, Alfred, the head waiter, whose mathematical calculations hold the key to whatever befalls.
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The late French writer (Pierrot Mon Ami, Odile, etc.) once again delivers a quirky, slapstick satire, this time about Parisian student life in the 1920's - a world where literati, would-be literati, and petty thieves commingle. Vincent Tuquedenne ("shy, and individualist, an anarchist and an atheist") arrives at the Sorbonne because he likes to read and sees academia as a path to higher social status, despite his sense of being an outsider. Unfortunately, he hates to study. Fortunately, there are many diversions among his circle of friends. A scholarly introduction tells us that Oueneau drew on his own journal extensively to re-create Parisian bohemian and salon life. The book is thus a mixed bag of windy philosophy ("History is an immobile flux") and engaging eccentrics: there are Brabbant (alias Martin-Martin), "a small-town crook" who involves Vincent and others in amorous and business intrigues; good friend Hublin, who originally wants to be a seer; and, most notably, there is Alfred, a waiter who witnesses all and (in short chapters of his own) comments from a cosmic perspective. Alfred has a system whereby he intends to win back all the money that his father gambled away at the races two decades previously. By the time Vincent's friends "were disappearing from his life" into departures or death, Alfred has succeeded, and also has the last word: "The entire universe will vanish, having fulfilled its destiny, just as here and now men's destiny is being fulfilled." Quenean fans will find this autobiographical novel, originally published in 1936, dazzling in its wordplay. Others will be occasionally amused and often engaged, despite too much clever patter (and padding). (Kirkus Reviews)