Book Review

The Counterfeiters by André Gide

a not-dirty-enough-to-be-dirty french novel

I’ve never read any Gide before, and I doubt I’ll do so again, as this mid-career novel never manages to become the raucous bonkfest that the blurb on the back almost-directly promised.

It’s a metatextual novel from the 1920s that – tbf – feels like it could have been written in the ’60s (or the 18th century if one remembers that Tristram Shandy exists), and the way in which it uses inception-like layers to tell its narrative (and implicitly implying it’s a narrative about Gide too) is honestly quite engaging. Unfortunately, though, much like a lot of experimental fiction, the formal play is to mask a lack of substance.

Maybe Gide’s less metatextual (and more horny) texts are better than this one, but I spent most of my time reading it waiting for the sex to slide from implied and in the wings to described and centre fucking stage.

This never happens.

There are hints of gay incest, there are lots of illegitimate children and affairs and there’s a little bit of teenage hanky-panky, but it all happens in the gaps between chapters or in the novel’s reported past. People fuck in this Paris of a century ago, but they don’t fuck as much as they want to.

///

The Counterfeiters is a novel about repression, more than anything else, about the dangers of shame and the impossibility of escaping it. It is about corruption (judges making sure their buddies’ children don’t get consequenced for the crimes they commit) and it’s about the falsity of happy-ever-afters. It’s a silly novel, too, though, with a very 19th century attitude to life and death (i.e. lots of the latter) and though it is often fun, when it is fun the fun often happens in quite distinct episodes. There are lots of characters who are very similar in terms of their character and their name and their aims/aspirations/desires, but I think it’s probably true that most people do want sex and money and attention and aren’t very good at hiding it. Gide does hide it, a bit though, because this book may be about sexuality, but it’s not a sexy novel.

I picked this up because I wanted to read a dirty French novel.

I was LET DOWN.

Despite the structural value of The Counterfeiters, none of its explorations of literature and literary careers feels especially exciting or insightful, and as a narrative of the sex lives and petty crimes of some bourgeois youngsters and their friends, family and associates, it’s not really trashy enough to hold attention. To hold my attention, I should add. Maybe you’d love it, whoever you are! Maybe it IS sexy enough for you, hahaha you repressed loser.

I like more debauchery than this in my debauched novels, in contrast to the fact that I like more novel in my experimental novels. The characters aren’t particularly engaging, and the only one who comes close to being so repeatedly tries to solicit (for sex) his own teenaged nephews, so there’s a pretty heavy suspension of normal moral response that must be taken to slip deep into Gide’s narrative.

I’m typing this on the train back from Montreal (a beautiful city that feels like a normal (i.e. European) city) it’s late and I’m starting to fall asleep. Will stop here, maybe add some more tomorrow. Probably not though, I wasn’t very excited by The Counterfeiters.

Oh, and the translator was Dorothy Bussy (with the material by Gide in the [dull] Appendix translated by Justin O’Brien). The appendix was letters and diaries Gide kept while writing the book, and they too weren’t sexy so what was the point, y’know?

Meh.

Also lol at that terrible Photo Booth effect to make it look like I’m in Paris hahaha.


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