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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Last Days

Raymond Queneau

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To purchase The Last Days

Title: The Last Days
Author: Raymond Queneau
Genre: Novel
Written: 1936 (Eng.: 1990)
Length: 238 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Last Days - US
The Last Days - UK
The Last Days - Canada
Les derniers jours - Canada
The Last Days - India
Les derniers jours - France
  • Translated by Barbara Wright
  • Introduction by Vivian Kogan
  • French title: Les derniers jours

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Our Assessment:

B- : an interesting but not always completely engaging view of Paris life in the 1920s

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The New Yorker . 21/1/1991 .
TLS . 29/11/1991 George Craig

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The complete review's Review:

       The Last Days is in many respects an autobiographical novel. The main character, Vincent Tuquedenne, is a student, whose academic life and career closely follow Queneau's own. A student of philosophy at the Sorbonne, an intellectual lad from the country not entirely comfortable in the big city in the 1920s, Tuquedenne proceeds somewhat aimlessly and without clear ambition. Well, he has ambition (to learn languages, to read even more books), but these best laid plans often come to naught. He muddles through, better than most: a fairly typical student-life of the period between the wars.
       The books is an interesting portrait of Paris in the twenties, following the paths of Tuquedenne and several of his fellow students, as well as several other, older Paris characters. Told in short, episodic chapters, covering the course of several years Queneau introduces the reader to many aspects of Parisian student and cafe life. Most of this is fairly interesting (though hardly riveting), and a few of the episodes are quite humorous -- and others poignant. Certainly he pulls the book together nicely in the end, as the paths of the characters have become clearly delineated, their fates now fairly obvious.
       All of this makes for a decent but unremarkable book. The one redeeming and truly worthwhile figure is the cafe waiter Alfred, who narrates several of the chapters himself. It is a time when Einstein's theory of relativity has made a big splash; Alfred is unimpressed. He has his own science, which allows him to foresee all. "I don't base my science on hypotheses and calculations that simply consist of letters, I base it on real, solid facts and on calculations that consist solely of figures," Alfred explains. Unlikely though he may be, Alfred is a convincing figure.
       An observant waiter, he also sees through all the many guests who frequent the establishment he works at, and occasionally he will tell them what is in store for them. But he does not want to profit from his prognosticating prowess. He has little ambition, his only goal being to win the money that was "stolen" from his father. He has a system, and when the time is right he will go to the racetrack to put it into action.
       Alfred does not disappoint, and the final chapter -- narrated by Alfred -- is a beautiful conclusion to this small tale.
       The Last Days is a decent little book, with a few worthwhile parts to it. It is not great literature, but it is reasonably enjoyable.

       Translator's Notes are included, to explain some of the terms and historical names that appear. It is a terrible set of notes -- completely arbitrary in what is explained, and wholly inadequate. In particular foreign quotations are not translated (though some French terminology is elaborated on) -- including a line of Greek and a Goethe quote. Very disappointing, and quite frustrating.

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The Last Days: Reviews: Raymond Queneau: Other books by Raymond Queneau under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Oulipo books under review
  • See Index of French literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       French author Raymond Queneau (1903-1976) is one of the most influential figures in modern French literature. He was General Secretary of the publisher Gallimard, and one of the founders of the Oulipo.

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