The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 31 January 2000

Zazie dans le métro

by Raymond Queneau

This is a frenetic little French novel. Though the French title is given here, this review is of the English translation by Barbara Wright (Zazie in the Metro). Raymond Queneau's writing is intricately slangy, and Wright's translation gives this book a very British sound, almost like an extended Monty Python sketch. Zazie, a 12-year-old from the country, is brought up to Paris by her mother, who is here to visit a new boyfriend. Zazie is left with her uncle Gabriel, who dances in drag at a nearby club. Zazie herself is a precocious and saucy independent little girl. And all she wants to do is ride the metro, whose employees are on strike. Nuttiness ensues. The book is full of crazy characters and situations. The language is inventive and crazy, the people self-absorbed and frantic. The book gives off a vague uncomfortable feeling, like these people are menacing but one never knows how. Will Zazie ever get to ride the metro, or will she be kidnapped by one of Paris' many sex-maniacs? A tough question to answer. (...though Louis Malle tried by making a 1960 movie of the same name...) Queneau puts existential twists in the fast-moving dialogue, but one may never catch what the author is getting at.

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Also by Queneau: [The Blue Flowers]