Translated by Frank Wynne. True to type, he is infatuated with America, or at least with Walt Whitman and his yawping breed, a group that for Beigbeder includes everyone from Holden Caulfield to Sinatra to Kurt Cobain. As with many of our condescending European admirers, Beigbeder suffers from some grave lapses in taste. In short, Beigbeder is the very snapshot of a young middle-aged decadent on the make. Instead, it is a strange diptych that alternates between the diarylike maunderings of "Beigbeder" and a fictionalized account of the death of a father and his two boys who were breakfasting at Windows on the World, the restaurant once atop the north tower. Beigbeder the narrator is, well, Beigbeder -- a shiftless, self-impressed intellectual, prone to rhapsodic introspection.
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Broken Windows. Sorry for that bout of black humor: a momentary defense against the atrocity. His section of the novel is set in February , when French Fries were even renamed Freedom Fries: The largest antiwar demonstration for fifty years; it is February 15, Yesterday, the U. Security Council. Beigbeder comes down firmly on the side of American culture but not politics , proclaiming rather implausibly in my personal view even the superiority of its literature, but strongly against its sense of chauvinism.
In the nineteenth century, American poets spoke French. Anti-Americanism is in large part jealousy and unrequited love. Deep down, the rest of the world admires American art and resents the United States for not returning the favor. What bothers us is not American imperialism, but American chauvinism, its cultural isolation, its complete lack of any curiosity about foreign work except in New York and San Francisco.
As for the cultural exception to American cultural hegemony that is France, contrary to what a recently dismissed CEO had to say, it is not dead: it consists in churning out exceptionally tedious movies, exceptionally slapdash books and, all in all, works of art which are exceptionally pedantic and self-satisfied. It goes without saying that I include my own work in this sorry assessment. The death toll must be 20,! I told you this would happen, I even wrote it.
The actual account of Carsten and his sons is in some senses the weakest part of the novel from a pure drama perspective. But the real strength of this section, which builds on what we do know from transcripts of phone calls made by those trapped, is to make real the brutality of what those trapped suffered.
Beigbeder argues, reasonably convincingly, that much of this has been self-censored: Five minutes after the first plane crashed into our tower, the tragedy was already a hostage to fortune in a media war. And patriotism?
Of course. Knee-jerk patriotism made the American press swagger about, censor our suffering, edit out shots of the jumpers, the photographs of those burn victims, the body parts.
But already it was war; in time of war, you hush up the damage done by the enemy. But even he draws the line at some points: I have cut out the awful descriptions.
I have not done so out of propriety, nor out of respect for the victims because I believe that describing their slow agonies, their ordeal, is also a mark of respect.
I cut them because, in my opinion, it is more appalling still to allow you to imagine what became of them. His approach - brutal honesty over sentimentality - is best illustrated when the Beigbeder author character does, for once, take a heroic view of those who choose to jump: They are human because they decide to choose how they will die rather than allow themselves to be burned. One last manifestation of dignity: they will have chosen their end rather than waiting resignedly.
But he immediately has his fictional character who actually witnessed events retort: Bullshit, my dear Beigbeder. Within seconds his derisory piece of fabric became a torch. Jeffrey literally exploded on the plaza, killing a firefighter and the woman he was rescuing. She found out he was bisexual and that he was dead in the same instant. The playboy character and unusual name of Carthew Yorsten is a rather odd feature of the novel, in that quite a lot of the narration is taken up in the rather seamy life of this one particular fictional character, but it felt as if Yorsten was n some senses a American version of Beigbeder, and a late and real-world revelation neatly justifies this interpretation and explains the choice of name.
What else is there to write? The only interesting subjects are those which are taboo. We must write what is forbidden. French literature is a long history of disobedience.
Nowadays, books must go where television does not. Show the invisible, speak the unspeakable. I am also obliged to concede that in leaning on the first great hyperterrorist attack, my prose takes on a power which it would not otherwise. Overall, so much more than an imaginative recount of the events of that day indeed if it were only that it would be much less of a success - the actual transcripts of the calls from the Towers themselves published e.
His mother, Christine de Chasteigner, is a translator of mawkish novels Barbara Cartland et al. The prize is awarded annually to a promising young French author. Vincent Ravalec, Jacques A. Bertrand, Michel Houellebecq are among those who have won the prize. In , the tenth anniversary of the prize, it was awarded to the only American to ever receive it, Bruce Benderson. He worked for a few years as an editor for Flammarion.
'Windows on the World': French Twist
Windows on the World