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3am Review





DUAL ENTITY



"In £6.99, Beigbeder's protagonist remarks: "Why do the Americans control the world? Because they control our means of communication." While betraying his obsession with America, this simple statement otherwise drenched in earnest rhetoric points to the defects in the translation undertaken of that novel, not least some of the rather dubious decisions around setting (moving the entire location from Paris to London, with all that entailed and lost). Needless to say, the obsession remains but the translation has delivered the goods, every nuance is captured, every sentiment expressed as you would imagine Beigbeder meant it."

Andrew Stevens reviews Frédéric Beigbeder's new novel, Windows on the World.

COPYRIGHT © 2004, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Frédéric Beigbeder, Windows on the World, 4th Estate, London, 2004

After the lukewarm reception afforded to Beigbeder's denunciation of the vacuity of the marketing world, £6.99, last year, the prospect of a French novel dealing with the last moments of a family perched at the top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11 receiving scant attention was somewhat unlikely. A French author declaring that: "The only way to know what took place in the restaurant on the 107th Floor of the North Tower, World Trade Centre on September 11th 2001 is to invent it." was bound to ruffle one or two collars along the way as well.

The position occupied by Beigbeder in France is that of the pop-intellectual, the cultural commentator novelist. Although eclipsed to some extent by the current pre-eminence of Michel Houellebecq, especially this side of the channel, Beigbeder is one of the exciting crop of contemporary French writers to have featured in the X-CiTes anthology a couple of years back (others include Marie Desplechin, Mounsi and Virginie Despentes). As we can expect, the themes addressed in both of Beigbeder's novels currently available in English are complex and high-falutin. The scenes take place in 'real time', each chapter represents a minute, for that po-mo touch.

It's somewhat inescapable, but I found myself immediately examining the dual narrative of £6.99 in reviewing Windows on the World, which also deploys a similar authorial tone. Unflinchingly, he replicates the obsession with not only contemporary cultural references but the painstaking attention to individual detail. In the same way that copywriter Octave Parengo in £6.99 is given to providing the reader with an inventory of everything he owns in his Hoxton apartment (down to Laetitia Casta's autograph and Kiehl body lotion), Mayflower Texan property developer Carthew Yorston muses over the "blonde in Ralph Lauren" and "the guy in Kenneth Cole" seated at an adjacent table (the duo emerge frequently to move the story along or provide slants on recent business trends). That coupled with Beigbeder's own personal presence as the author-narrator seated, concurrently with the tragedy, in a roof-top restaurant on the 56th floor of the Tour Montparnasse in Paris and prone to tangential cultural commentary, suggests a determination to saturate the novel in cultural reference points, that may or may not date it substantially. A reviewer once wrote of Trocchi's Young Adam that he expected to see 'Camus was here' written prominently at the end of it. We simply have to substitute Camus for Brett Easton-Ellis (for whom homage is dutifully acknowledged in this instance) today. Why else would there be so much commentary on the sexual mores of the New York swinging scene post-9/11?

In £6.99, Beigbeder's protagonist remarks: "Why do the Americans control the world? Because they control our means of communication." While betraying his obsession with America, this simple statement otherwise drenched in earnest rhetoric points to the defects in the translation undertaken of that novel, not least some of the rather dubious decisions around setting (moving the entire location from Paris to London, with all that entailed and lost). Needless to say, the obsession remains but the translation has delivered the goods, every nuance is captured, every sentiment expressed as you would imagine Beigbeder meant it.

Windows on the World is, as you would expect from Beigbeder if you are familiar with him, part novel, part cultural commentary, part manifesto and part cathartic purge. As a composite work, it reinvents the form successfully, but is at pains to acknowledge how it got there.

'Frédéric recommends'

For additional context, readers might wish to view the following sites mentioned in the novel:

http://www.new-york-escorts.com
http://www.manhattangirls.com




ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Andrew Stevens is Co-Editor of 3AM and lives in London, England.





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