ever get out of him, Noël Godin comes over as a mesmerizing conversationalist-cum-consummate stylist. In truth, he can rabbit on like his hero Bugs Bunny on speed until the vaches (French for pigs) come home ! Reminiscing over the public humiliation of public figures seems to microwave the cockles of his little heart, setting his tongue a-wagging as if there were no tomorrow and the world needed an urgent talking-to. Eloquent and grandiloquent by turns, Godin turns out to be the talk of the town - a glutton for oratory, an inveterate verbal bulimic, cramming his unsavoury memoirs with meaty mouthfuls, kilograms of epigrams and wondrous witticisms. The author, pleased as Punch, leaves the reader reeling, punch-line-drunk.

Although he loathes the type of postmodern fiction that disappears up its own ars rhetorica , language is the pièce de résistance (a rococo pièce montée would be a more apt description) which Godin dishes out with evident relish. We are talking language with bite here, the mordant kind that bares its teeth and just about everything else, pouring forth at full lick like spewed-up moules frites , when it is not swooning at its own swagger. An acquired taste, of course, but one well worth acquiring if you have the stomach for a gargantuan four-course discourse. The spicy anecdotes are sometimes a mere pre-text : all the fun of the fare resides in their cocasse recountal. Around these veracious, elated, voraciously-related vignettes, Godin erects a Babel of babble, a towering inferno of titillating tittle-tattle : a pleasure-principle dome. Beyond the picaresque eripeteia - in the nooks and crannies of the tortuous sentences, the kooky portmanteau words ("attentarte") and pithy, presumably off-the-cuff, one-liners - lies the plaisir du texte . The sheer-stocking bliss of textual harassment. The stoccado, scattato stiletto style. Even the cantankerous cursing is quaint and recherché ; a devilishly efficacious cross between an eighteenth-century libertine ("foutre Dieu!") and Tintin's foul-mouthed sidekick, Captain Haddock ("ventre de boeuf !", "mille tonerres !", "jambon à cornes !"). If Godin won't eat his words - every other sentence is a sentence to death - then the reader probably will : who would refuse to be fed a diet to die for in an age of Prozac prose and Lit Lite ?

There are shades of Rabelais, a pervading sense of démesure , in this verbal surfeit, as well as in the constant oscillation between refinement and vulgarity. Gab-gifted Godin's Gallic garrulity - with its declamatory, tribun-style tournures, and robust Third-Republic, école communale flavour - often degenerates into a slang slanging match with the world as it is and should n ot be. His cyclothymic style swells up into a bomb blast of bombast in the mock-heroic mode, then collapses from within into an understated, deadpan shorthand like a soufflé gone awry. There is always a rapid detumescent descent from the giddy heights of Godin's furor loquendi : after each yackety-yack attack, the scintillating syntax grinds to a halt, not with a bang but a whimper. This self-deflating prose, which pricks its own champagne bubble of pomposity every now and then, gives the hilarious impression of an orgy ending in a bout of digestive-biscuit nibbling. Bref , Crème et châtiment is a feisty feast of lingual felicity, which is not to say that it is short on substance.


Like an epic poem, the book begins in medias res , and then proceeds by successive flashbacks until halfway through the narrative. The first chapter zooms in on Bernard-Henri Lévy's discomfiture at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, which sums up Le Gloupier's oeuvre in Godin's view. Its title ("B.H.L., mon amour"), modelled on Hiroshima, mon amour , is an oblique reference to the original pie attack perpetrated against Marguerite Duras some fifteen years earlier. A potted history of Le Gloupier's genesis ("Fondements théoriques de l'attentat pâtissier") is interpolated into the account of the comical Duras incident which stretches out over two chapters. The three following chapters are devoted to a further analepsis. They form a kind of mini Bildungsroman , taking us from Godin's early pranks as a fallen choirboy to his post-1968 agitprop. The rest of the book, covering more familiar territory, is devoted to the growth of the "révolution crémière".


Some, no doubt, will find this exercise in self-aggrandizement difficult to swallow - a trifle rich - and will probably make a meal of it. To them, Godin will remain a gredin, an oafish loafer whose bread and butter is to slice the upper crust down to size. Alternatively, he will be branded a frustrated loser, a sort of global-village idiot bent on pooping the jet set's party, or dismissed as a mild irritant, the gratin's poil à gratter . Others will see Godin as as the maître farceur of our virtual-reality age, making a spectacle of the disintegrating société du spectacle; a globe-trotting terrorrist, whose stage is the world, for ever hitting and running off to creamy, unpasteurized pastures new.

Ultimately, the author remains something of an enigma : a protean master of disguise, a Machiavellian maverick, an avant-garde film director, a pathological liar (in his incapacity as a critic), a righter of wrongs and a writer of sorts. A fruitcake, perhaps, but Crème et châtiment shows us that there is a recipe in his madness.


Noël Godin seems to have been a prankster with a cause for as long as he can remember. His strict Catholic upbringing at the slap-happy hands of Salesian fathers in Liège brought out the little devil in him. Young Godin's spirited anticlerical capers would stop at nothing : hitching up the nuns' skirts and shouting "Vive Diderot !" when Jacques Rivette's La Religieuse was banned in 1966, playing a recorded concert of farts during mass, unleashing flocks of pigeons while The Birds was being shown at school, or even stooping to pissing in stoops - Manneken-Pis fashion - on the odd occasion.

His law studies came to a sticky end when he poured a pot of glue over a right-wing professor who had worked for the Portuguese dictator Salazar. That was just before getting caught up in the student uprising of 1968 which was to change the course of his life. In 1995, he told The Observer that he was "never cured of the fever of May 1968." As Walter Pater once put it : "To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life."

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