Just finished Frédéric Beigbeder’s „Un roman français“, highly praised by the French press. Yes, the clown is finally gone. Instead, there is honesty, vulnerability, depth, Chantilly language and some fantastic thoughts. In a way it's his first book. I was very curious and excited about the book. Opening Beigbeder’s books for the first time always makes me feel like a kid opening Christmas presents. My first reaction was very emotional. After reading three pages, I had to put the book away. It was spooky. What I was reading felt like my unwritten words. My thoughts about writing, about family, about the childhood. About amnesia. Just like Beigbeder, I also suffer from a complete amnesia about my childhood. No memories whatsoever.
But this is where the similarities end. In contrary to my childhood, which was bursting with dramatic episodes, Beigbeder’s childhood is just plain…. boring. It takes artistry (and yes, some tricks) to write a whole (good) book about a boring childhood. Noble ancestors, holidays in family villas, Bently rides to the country club, parents’ divorce which magically went by without one bad word, let alone a fight, a caring mother and a cool father, a handsome brother. Beigbeder is nice to his readers, and even excuses himself for this boring childhood, mentioning that probably most childhoods are boring. That is his actual problem – or the actual inspiration for creating what is today his famous public persona – Beigbeder is extremely isolated in his French bourgeois capsule. No Fréderic, most childhoods are everything but boring!
This extreme boredom (I actually cannot believe that one can have such a childhood. He must be romanticising it.) is for a person like me, who often complains about the challenges life has opposed on her, a very important message - boredom is actually a curse! Especially for a sensible, creative, educated person like Beigbeder who wants to feel the whole intensity of life and reproduce it in his writing. What to do when there is nothing is there? Search in all the wrong places. Search in clubs and parties and young female bodies. Search in alcohol and drugs.
And it is the drugs (cocaine) that gave Beigbeder the huge gift of finally having a dramatic experience – and a chance to grow up. After getting arrested for snorting coke on a hood of a parked car, he ends up in a jail. And hey, an eternal kid finally gets to experience a bit of “not boredom” – which he describes as horror! Two nights in jail are such a trauma that he finally decides to try growing up and writes his best book yet.
The book is honest, the book is self-critical, the book is a fantastic portrait of bored bourgeoisie. But there is a disturbing feeling that here, he is trying to make everything right. Through self-criticism and through glorifying others. His mother is a self-scarifying saint. His father is a cool businessman heartbroken because his wife left him. His ex-wife should be pitied for her role of a single mother. The brother is a handsome successful knight. The daughter is an angel. Jesus! What is happening here!? “I’ve been a bad boy till now, I did and said some bad things but let me try correct it here!”??? This glorifying of his family feels ... intentional. The end result is making the boring life he is describing seem even more uninteresting.
I was extremely excided for Frédéric when I finished the book. Personally. I was happy for him because he seems to have (finally) reached another stage in his life. I know how great that feels. Knowing him, I believe he has actually reached this stage long ago but it took this book, admitting it on paper and turning it into peace of art, to make it “official”. But the book also made me sad. For the emptiness. It made me want to take him by the hand and take him to Baghdad for a few moths to live with an Iraqi family. And then make him work in a hospital with very ill children. Anything that would make him a bit ashamed for dramatizing two nights in a jail.
But most of all, this book made me grateful for all challenges life has given me. I will not complain about them anymore. But honestly - I did have enough!
P.S. Definitely do read if you want to know why we write.