Book Review

Nadja by André Breton

Photo on 12-09-2014 at 13.53 #3

Urgh. Nadja by André Breton is the worst book I’ve read for fucking ages. Dull, poorly structured, self-important and smug, it is not the biography of a troubled young woman that it claims to be (and I don’t just mean by virtue of its title), being instead the masturbatory ramblings of someone clearly more than a little bit of an earnest, pretentious dick.

There are few things I hate more than earnestness. Except perhaps:

  • Taking oneself seriously.
  • Self-aggrandisement rather than self-depreciation.
  • Revelling in the tricking and manipulation of vulnerable people.
  • Smugness. AND
  • Being boring.

And André Breton, Mr Surrealist, does every fucking one of those to an extreme level.

Nadja (the book) is dull. Little of interest happens, and the little that does happen is recounted with such charmlessness that it may as well not have done.

The central story is thus: Breton seduces Nadja, a poor – but beautiful – young woman who is clearly a bit psychologically unwell, then proceeds  to deliberately fuck her up by abjectly messing her around. She forms a strong affection for him, then when he rejects her she has a breakdown and ends up institutionalised.

This sounds like it could be an interesting story, but instead of sympathy and characterisation, Breton offers smug behind the hand giggles and an overarching tone of “well, that’s what you get if you’re a poor and beautiful woman – tee hee!”

AND, the real scandal, is that this narrative doesn’t even start until halfway through the book. The first half of the “novel” (or whatever the fuck it’s meant to be) is instead dull stream of consciousness, bragging about Breton’s success and reputation without offering any reason for it to exist. It’s sub-Joycean. And regular readers of this blog will know that I can’t speak more damningly of modernist prose than that.

Breton comes across as selfish and a shit, but also someone with little grasp of how to write a satisfying book. And it REALLY, REALLY isn’t a fault with the translation, that much I can tell.

Worst thing I’ve read for months. Do not read,

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