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mags

Zazie in the Metro: 20th Century

Zazie in the Metro - Raymond Queneau, Barbara Wright, Gilbert Adair Zazie Lalochère is my hero, or perhaps antihero. Both? She's a preteen-teen (her age is never stated) from the French country who gets dropped off with her uncle, Gabriel, in Paris for two days so her mother can spend time with her new boyfriend. Immediately, it's obvious that Zazie is a character. When she finds out that the metro she so desperately wants to ride is closed due to a strike, she cries, "Oo the bastards!" But the moment she wins my heart comes a few pages later when she declares she wants to be a teacher. Her aunt and uncle are suitably impressed and say teaching is a good profession with a good pension. Zazie responds, "Pension my arse." The reason she wants to be a teacher is actually: "To bitch up the brats." Everyone in this book, from Zazie to Gabriel to the landlord's parrot, is actually kind of an asshole. The landlord calls Zazie a little slut, Zazie spits in his face and accuses him of being a pedophile in front of a crowd of people. Hijinks ensue. But as the great Ms. Clairee Belcher once said:The book is really just a series of random scenes punctuated by smartass dialogue and the occasional man-napping and attempted rape.The dialogue might also be annoying at first because a lot of it is written colloquially."I'll ksplain," says Gabriel.Usually went someone sends me a text like that ("Wot r u doin 2day?"), I want to kill myself. However, Raymond Queneau isn't some undereducated teenager. As explained in the Introduction, this was a linguistic experiment and parody by the man who co-founded the Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, "a literary workshop whose raison d'être was the invention of fiendish linguistic constraints." Basically, Queneau was having some fun with Zazie. And that's why, despite the seeming randomness of plot and phonetic dialogue, Zazie in the Metro works for me. It's not meant to be highbrow, though it's written by someone in the highest echelons of French intelligentsia, and it doesn't seem like it wants to be anything. Yet, thanks to Zazie, it's still memorable and entertaining. It just feels very French. That may not be a strong enough reason to read this for a lot of people, but it was more than enough for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it.