Book Review

The Blood of Others by Simone de Beauvoir

some things are worth dying for - what is worth killing for?

March 21st, 2022, Toronto

I picked a strange time to read this, The Blood of Others (1945, English translation by Roger Senhouse & Yvonne Moyse, 1948).

I began reading this early novel by famous mid-century French writer and thinker Simone de Beauvoir while on my solo jaunt to Montreal last weekend. That was only seven days ago, but it somehow feels a lot longer than that.

I’ve been working in my job for far more hours than I’d like to be, which obviously is good because it means that events are finally happening in the city again after the end of the latest lockdown, but it’s also bad because I handed in my notice already and I still have many many weeks of problems to deal with. Who knows, maybe by the time you’re reading this I will have been removed from these Canadian tyrannies, the horror the horror of financial stability and the horror the horror of not being in a country I fundamentally abhor…

God, I don’t want to be in England.

They’re trying to do “make utilities providers into untouchable oligarchs” at the same time as they are demonising all of the existing (and Russian) oligarchs they already have. A nation of lickspittle reactionary morons who deeply, deeply, believe that a person’s value is no more and no less than the average salary of their peers (classism, rather than blunt money-loving, is the disease).

Anyway…

To care about something means it is worth dying for, right? Does it? Is that what we think? Is that what anyone thinks?

As I read The Blood of Others, a gruesome war continues to rage in Eastern Europe, with credible sources alleging war (and other) crimes on both sides. Obviously, one side is the aggressor and the other is not, but learning that my enemy’s enemy is not my friend (just as your friend’s enemy is not necessarily yours) is a key point in the growth of wisdom, right? 

This novel is about resistance against a seemingly unstoppable foreign invader, and though a contemporary reader knows that Paris would eventually escape the Nazi yoke, the way it did so was by shedding a lot of blood.

The main character, as they often are in novels, is a posh boy political activist who is involved with communists until his friend (or brother, I can’t remember, it was right at the start) dies in a fascist-communist riot. He has walked away from his family wealth (from printing) and works as an entry level printer, doing some trade union work and shagging all the ladies he encounters as they’re easily charmed by his upper class charisma gained from his fancy education.

Years flow by and the protagonist ends up a leader in the resistance, ordering bombings and assassinations and using his dad’s printworks to publish seditious (I don’t know what that means) anti-Nazi materials. His Tory father knows this is happening, but he doesn’t consent to this because he too dreams of an enfranchised working class, but because he torily loves LA FRANCE and wants to get the jerries back where they belong! Also the Holocaust is happening and everyone is fucking terrified.

De Beauvoir, who was obviously living in Paris when all this happened and was involved in the resistance, I believe (right?), really fucking evokes the intensity of that lived nightmare. The novel jumps about a bit, modernistishly, existentialistishly, and the central question the text raises is one that remains – and likely always will remain – potent: if something is worth dying for (and we all agree that some/many things are), then why is it so much harder to find something worth killing for?

It’s a question that will ever remain important, because life is what we have and death is its absence: to fight and die is considered commendable, yet to fight and kill still remains taboo. 

Everything is pretty shitty, globally, and there seems to be a lot of pessism, largely grounded in pretty measured fears of nuclear war.

The Blood of Others is a beautiful novel, exploring the ways in which it feels easier to risk the self – and others – than it does to target someone else for death.

Powerful, philosophical, prescient (I’m not using that word correctly).


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