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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

How I Became Stupid

Martin Page

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To purchase How I Became Stupid

Title: How I Became Stupid
Author: Martin Page
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2004)
Length: 160 pages
Original in: French
Availability: How I Became Stupid - US
How I Became Stupid - UK
How I Became Stupid - Canada
Comment je suis devenu stupide - Canada
Comment je suis devenu stupide - France
Antoine oder die Idiotie - Deutschland
  • French title: Comment je suis devenu stupide
  • Translated by Adriana Hunter

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Our Assessment:

B : too broad in its satire, but with some appeal

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 23/1/2003 Ingeborg Harms
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 24/8/2002 Milo Rau
San Francisco Chronicle . 26/12/2004 Claire Lui
World Lit. Today A Summer-Fall/2002 Judith L. Greenberg

  From the Reviews:
  • "Der siebenundzwanzigjährige Franzose Martin Page hat ein durch und durch albernes Buch geschrieben, das aber trotzdem keinen Spaß macht. (...) Das literarische Kalkül, die Welt durch eine von der Norm abweichende Eigenschaft in ein völlig neues Licht zu versetzen, scheitert bei Page durch einen Mangel an Konsequenz. Die Außenseiterposition seines Helden wird behauptet, aber nicht gestaltet." - Ingeborg Harms, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "The real irony in the book (and perhaps this is Page's true point, though it seems unlikely) is that what passes as "smart" in Antoine's world is just as ridiculous as what passes as "stupid" -- nothing more than a bunch of empty signifiers." - Claire Lui, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Comment je suis devenue stupide is one of those rare books that takes forever to read because you never want to come to the end, despite wanting to know what witty trouvaille he'll come up with next. It takes a long time, too, because you have to stop frequently to wipe tears of laughter from your eyes." - Judith L. Greenberg, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       How I Became Stupid -- which, despite its title, is not narrated in the first person -- tells the story of Antoine Arakan. Now in his mid-twenties, with an "exotic collection of diplomas" and having accumulated largely useless knowledge ("You've studied to become unemployed!" he's told), he thinks the root of his troubles lies in his intellect

Intelligence makes you unhappy, lonely, and poor, whereas disguising it offers the possibility of immortality in newsprint and the admiration of those who believe what they read.
       And so he proceeds to try to commit intellectual (and, at one point, considers actual) suicide. First he tries to become an alcoholic, but he isn't physically suited for that. Suicide doesn't look like a great option either -- and then his doctor refuses to perform a lobotomy. His doctor is, however, willing to prescribe Happyzac, with its "tranquilizing, antidepressant effect".
       Antoine clears his life as well as his mind, trying to avoid anything that has even a whiff of intellectual stimulation. He ventures to McDonalds (this is a French novel, remember, so entering "this symbol of the standardization of different ways of life" is freighted with considerably more meaning than if his adventures took place in, say, the US), and instead of part-time teaching work at the university he takes a job as a stockbroker offered to him by an old friend ("you're new to all this, you're not jaded, you won't be influenced by the wrong kind of stuff" his friend Raphi enthuses). Naturally, Antoine enjoys great success -- though his greatest coups come when he accidentally (and then on purpose) spills coffee on his computer keyboard, briefly shorting it out (and conveniently executing big money-making orders in the process ...): in a French novel of this sort anti-intellectual success can, of course, only come by complete chance, not actual hard work.
       Needless to say, Antoine comes (or is eventually brought) to his senses, and returns to his old ways and friends.
       Heavy on the quirkiness (Antoine is half-Burmese, fluent in Aramaic, etc.), with the satire often too forced too -- the coffee-spills and suicide school (reminiscent of Jean Teulé's The Suicide Shop), Page doesn't go as completely overboard as, for example, Benoît Duteurtre does in books like The Little Girl and the Cigarette but is still too often pleased with his little bits of invention and doesn't work nearly hard enough to test his premise -- stripping away intellect and thought, and trying to live life as conventionally (at least as that is perceived in the popular imagination) as possible -- with much seriousness.
       Too gentle, too frivolous, (and too lazy) How I Became Stupid is an occasionally entertaining short, quick read, but falls short of the satire it could have been.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 December 2009

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How I Became Stupid: Reviews: Martin Page: Other books by Martin Page under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Martin Page was born in 1975.

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