Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Journey to the End of the Night

I had wanted to read Journey to the End of the Night for a long time but I was very disappointed by it. In fact I had to struggle to finish it. It is true to its bleak and misanthropic reputation but it is also tedious and even sentimental in its own curious way or at least that's how it felt to me. I guess this whole "negation of the negation" business doesn't cut with me anymore. War is bad, Imperialism is bad, Capitalism is bad, socialism is no good either and worst of all in the end it is all pain, suffering and death - basically it all sucks real bad! Yawn!! Actually the scattershot misanthropy of the book is very interesting to read but it is punctuated by long stretches of dialogues and banal descriptions of banal goings on. Frankly Michel Houellebecq does it much better. And I am not even going to the *real* literature of misanthropy - Swift, Dostoevsky, Beckett, Bernhard et.al.

I would have rather preferred a book of aphorisms edited out from this book. As Will Self in this New York Times essay says, much of it reads like "La Rochefoucauld on LSD."

One extract from the book:

"I'd pretty well come to the point, the age, you might say, when a man knows what he's losing with every hour that passes. But he hasn't yet built up the wisdom to pull up sharp on the road of time, and anyway, even if you did stop you wouldn't know what to do without the frenzy for going forward that has possessed you and won your admiration ever since you were young. Even now you're not as pleased with your youth as you used to be, but you don't dare admit in public that youth may be nothing more than a hurry to grow old.

In the whole of your absurd past you discover so much that's absurd, so much deceit and credulity, that it might be a good idea to stop being young this minute, to wait for youth to break away from you and pass you by, to watch it going away, receding in the distance, to see all its vanity, run your hand through the empty space it has left behind, take a last look at it, and then start moving, make sure your youth has really gone, and then calmly, all by yourself, cross to the other side of Time to see what people and things really look like."

Some enthusiasm for his other books here

and I love this song:

2 comments:

Fausto Maijstral said...

If you really think Houellbecq does it much better, then maybe it's time you start questioning the quality of the translation because quite frankly there is no comparison...

Alok said...

Actually the translation I read was by Ralph Manheim who is generally very well regarded but it did read very differently from what i had expected. I suspect the language was overly sanitised because I didn't come across many abusive or scatological phrases, as I was expecting, having read a few reviews and essays about him before. He also used a lot of French slang in his dialogues which doesn't come out in English either.