Monday, 11 July 2011

Mahu or The Material - Robert Pinget

Back in the day (which was a very long way back) when I was trying to learn French (most of which I have now forgotten for lack of practice), I struggled through a Pinget in the original, text in one hand, a stack of French dictionaries close by the other. That experience, along with Beckett’s wonderful (if somewhat loose) translation of one of his plays, was enough to tell me that Pinget was an author I liked.

And now there are translations of all his works available for me to take the lazy option. I would much prefer to read these in the original as there is (along with Robbe-Grillet, Beckett, and others of that ilk) something about the French language that lends itself to such innovative writing.

Mahu is thoroughly, charmingly and, appropriately (given the Saint Fiducia episode), barking. It is a delight from start to finish. Proof (if proof were needed) that exploratory and innovative fiction can be humorous and fun (which aren’t necessarily one and the same thing). There is serious intent here. Not just an exploration of human relationships and the unique outlook of Mahu, but also a quirky examination of the nature of fiction as this novel is the novel of the central character. Yet the serious examination of these issues and ideas is all the better for its surreal daftness.

It is an aspect of the French I have long admired (and which had me seriously considering a move to Paris at one point) that work ranging from the profundity of a Camus, Sartre, or Pinget sits with equanimity in the same metaphorical pavement café as a Simenon or a Lucky Luke comic and is take with equal measures of seriousness and enjoyment. We had it in the UK for a while in the late 60s, but then literature (like everything else in this benighted land) was seen as a money spinning commodity; a world to be colonised by pompous no-nothings who churn out dull twaddle.

All I can say is, ‘Vive la différence.’