:: Article

A Nightclub Called ‘Shit’


Frédéric Beigbeder, Holiday in a Coma & Love Lasts Three Years, Fourth Estate, 2007

There’s nothing to enhance a writer’s credibility like a good dose of controversy. For Frédéric Beigbeder, this came in 2005 with his novel Windows on the World, a searing, minute-by-minute account of the 9/11 bomb attacks. Some opined that it was all needlessly graphic, an exercise in shock without substance. Others applauded its candour and sincerity as it attempted to make sense of what had happened in New York.

Anyone expecting Beigbeder to redeem himself with this collection will be bitterly disappointed; and anyone hoping for a return to the frank and honest narrative that has marked his career will surely be delighted. Both Holiday in a Coma and Love Lasts Three Years are superb novels illustrating the brutality of life. Beigbeder, perhaps sensibly, locates his narratives in rather less controversial zones – a nightclub and an unhappy marriage respectively – but he is still devoted to gritty realism. Fans of Beigbeder’s outrageous touches will, however, be mollified to learn that Holiday in a Coma takes place almost entirely in a nightclub christened “Shit”. Our guide to the twelve-hour party is Marc Marronier, a disenchanted advertising executive utterly contemptuous of the world around him. This is Holden Caulfield ten years on, learning that life doesn’t get any better with age. Beigbeder’s main skill lies in his ability to combine dazzling colour and energy with Marc’s own lethargic cynicism, a remarkable feat which we can attribute largely to his bold, audacious tricks with language. Even though Marc is utterly dwarfed by his own sense of discontentment, a device which effectively saps the novel of any type of engaging narrative thread, the reader is never anything short of captivated.

Love Lasts Three Years is, in some ways, even more mean-spirited, following Marc as he emerges from a rapidly crumbling marriage. Basing itself on a series of increasingly pessimistic theories about relationships, it might be easy to feel suffocated by the weight of Marc’s self-righteous misery. Beigbeder carefully crafts his novel to avoid such tedium, however; when Marc meets Alice at his grandmother’s funeral, a chance encounter that will ultimately wreck his marriage to Anne, we realise that this is a love story after all. For anyone who has all but given up on Marc’s seemingly hopeless tale, Alice provides a much-needed fresh of breath air: she is a character of sparkling vivacity, and more than makes up for the otherwise-questionable representation of women in the collection.

As companion pieces, the two novels don’t necessarily fit together perfectly, but as a singular study of one man’s midlife-crisis, they form a compelling story. Perhaps the book market, already saturated with grisly tales of misery and suffering, doesn’t need any more gloom. But this is precisely the conclusion that Beigbeder himself reaches, and so this is what makes Holiday in a Coma and Love Lasts Three Years such vital reads. The ‘sting in the tail’ is, inevitably, a deliciously charming one: the gritty, pessimistic realism of Marc’s tale gives way to the real truth underlying his cynicism – one that is optimistic, earnest and totally irresistible.

Charlotte Stretch lives in Brixton where she is a freelance writer and an editor of 3:AM. She is currently working on her first novel.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, August 20th, 2007.