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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

We Always Treat Women
Too Well

Raymond Queneau

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To purchase We Always Treat Women Too Well

Title: We Always Treat Women Too Well
Author: Raymond Queneau
Genre: Novel
Written: 1947 (Eng. 1981)
Length: 181 pages
Original in: French
Availability: We Always Treat Women Too Well - US
We Always Treat Women Too Well - UK
We Always Treat Women Too Well - Canada
On est toujours trop bon avec les femmes - Canada
We Always Treat Women Too Well - India
On est toujours trop bon avec les femmes - France
Man ist immer zu gut zu den Frauen - Deutschland
Troppo buoni con le donne - Italia
Siempre somos demasiado buenos con las mujeres - España
  • French title: On est toujours trop bon avec les femmes
  • First published under the pseudonym 'Sally Mara'
  • Translated Barbara Wright
  • Introduction by John Updike

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Our Assessment:

B : odd literary experiment; fascinating in part, but hard to warm to

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . Fall/2003 Jordan Stump
New Statesman . 6/3/1981 Nicholas Shrimpton
The NY Rev. of Books . 22/2/2001 Roger Shattuck
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/2003 Jeff Bursey
The Times . 5/2/1981 Stuart Evans
TLS . 20/2/1981 George Craig

  Review Consensus:

  Mixed feelings

  From the Reviews:
  • "We Always Treat Women Too Well forms a perfectly undefinable whole, serious and comical, or comical because serious, wise and deliberately foolish. Indeed, it would not be too much to say that the novel undoes itself in much the same way that Gertie undoes the insurgent's plan: The moment it sets out to be orderly, to be one specific thing, it cannot resist an imperious urge to defy its own order and to become something else." - Jordan Stump, Bookforum

  • "We Always Treat Women Too Well was never really a piece of popular art and its failure as pulp could always have been predicted. The book is an elaborate intellectual joke, no less jocular for being in part addressed to a serious concern. (...) A few excellent jokes result. But on the whole the consequence is erudite whimsy of a kind which makes it hard to see the book as anything but a literary curiosity." - Nicholas Shrimpton, New Statesman

  • "It may now find more admirers of its sensibility than it did on its first appearance. Written in protest at the enthusiasm present in France for black humor and gangster novels, the novel is filled with graphic violence and sexual scenes that never attempt to be cathartic or prurient." - Jeff Bursey, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "Judged by contemporary standards, the obscene content is pretty mild and the novel is remarkable rather for its hilarity, its gusto, and its sometimes surreal grasp of human absurdity. The over-formal locution and orotundity of a certain class of Anglo-Irish prose is captured delightfully, interspersed with quick funny dialogue and effective description. It is hard to imagine how the novel reads in French; what is evident is that the translation by Barbara Wright is itself an achievement of the highest quality." - Stuart Evans, The Times

  • "Assumptions that all this must be "erudite pastiche" or "inspired romp" block access to real difficulties -- and real delights. (...) Queneau's wide sureness of linguistic touch and his compassionate tone remind us, humbly and humblingly, that heroism, brutality, devotion and love itself are labels: names that mark a reality all right, but from the outside. (...) The translator's hold on the colloquial may not always be sure; but it is a novel that Flann O'Brien would surely have enjoyed." - George Craig, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Raymond Queneau's We Always Treat Women Too Well bears some resemblance to the books Boris Vian published as 'Vernon Sullivan', such as I Spit on Your Graves, as Queneau too attempted, around the same time (just after the end of the Second World War), a novel in the American-pulp/James Hadley Chase vein. Set in Dublin in 1916, it has a group of Irish Republicans take over a post office -- and then face the British counter-attack. In the middle of it all is Gertie Girdle, who finds herself in the lavatory when the fighting breaks out but eventually is discovered.
       Part sexual plaything, partially trying to maneuver herself into a position where she can save her own hide, Gertie is very ... active in the story. The Republicans face a variety of other issues as well, but Gertie proves the biggest complication.
       Part political -- royalists versus Republicans --, part criminal, part sexual, We Always Treat Women Too Well does offer wall-to-wall action -- occasionally of the absurder sort. It is written in a fast-paced, pulpy style -- but of a very distinctive kind. Queneau can't help but also indulge in wordplay, from the stilted manner in which his characters talk to the Joycean allusions (and names) he spreads throughout the text -- right down to the oft-repeated rallying cry of: "Finnegans wake !"
       The linguistic play -- and especially the strong Joycean flavor -- also mean that translator Barbara Wright's role is, once again, more obviously that of collaborator rather than simply translator. All in all it makes for an unusual text. It is both bizarre and clever, entertaining and frustrating. It is more than just a simple experiment in literary pulp, but even with its cartoonish elements and abrupt declarations Queneau always writes in opposition to the genre -- which somewhat limits the overall pleasure of the story.
       A fascinating exercise in its own right, We Always Treat Women Too Well remains a discomfiting work, both as thriller and simply as literary text -- but, yes, Queneau may well have wanted it that way.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 January 2012

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We Always Treat Women Too Well: Reviews: Raymond Queneau: Other books by Raymond Queneau under review: Other books of interest under 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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