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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Froth on the Daydream
(Mood Indigo)

Boris Vian

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Mood Indigo

Title: Froth on the Daydream
Author: Boris Vian
Genre: Novel
Written: 1947 (Eng. 1967; rev. 1970)
Length: 214 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Mood Indigo - US
Mood Indigo - UK
Mood Indigo - Canada
L'écume des jours - Canada
Mood Indigo - India
L'écume des jours - France
Der Schaum der Tage - Deutschland
La schiuma dei giorni - Italia
La espuma de los días - España
  • French title: L'écume des jours
  • Translated by Stanley Chapman
  • Originally published as Froth on the Daydream; new (movie tie-in) re-issue published as Mood Indigo
  • Also translated by John Sturrock, as Mood Indigo (1968)
  • Also translated by Brian Harper, as Foam of the Daze (2003)
  • Film version released in 2013, directed by Michel Gondry and starring Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou

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Our Assessment:

B+ : neatly playful and twisted

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Harvard Crimson* . 18/3/1969 Nina Bernstein
Independent on Sunday . 3/8/2014 David Evans
The LA Times* . 1/2/2004 James Sallis
The NY Times Book Rev.* . 26/1/1969 Robert Phelps
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction* . Summer/2004 Thomas Hove
Sunday Times . 12/11/1967 John Whitley
The Times . 4/11/1967 Ruby Millar
TLS . 6/2/1964 John Sturrock
TLS . 2/11/1967 John Sturrock
* review is of a different translation of this work
  From the Reviews:
  • "Mood Indigo is not an anarchic collection of magic notions; what disturbs us from the beginning is a sense of the fantasy's internal coherence (.....) Vian maintains a kind of baroque humor throughout, but puns and word games (unfortunately badly translated) shade into black humor which at the novel's end becomes a Kafkaesque surrealism that we find frightening rather than funny." - Nina Bernstein, The Harvard Crimson

  • "Stanley Chapman’s fine translation captures Vian’s language, with its bubbly musicality and surreal similes (...). Quite what it all means is anyone’s guess – but this is a mad, moving, beautiful novel." - David Evans, Independent on Sunday

  • "There have been two previous English translations (...) Chapman's is by far the superior, admirably transposing Vian's rhythms into English and finding equivalents for his multi-level puns and wordplay. But Brian Harper's hip new translation, edged toward the modern U.S. reader, may well become the standard. (...) This is a great novel, mind you." - James Sallis, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The novel reads like a combination of Lewis Carroll and Thomas Pynchon, and sometimes Vian's absurdist style creates an emotionally distant effect. But its final chapters sustain a powerful note of sadness for two young loves ruined by mortality, rival intellectual obsessions, and a repressive work ethic." - Thomas Hove, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "(I)t is as timeless as Le Grand Meaulnes or even La Princesse de Clèves." - John Whitley, Sunday Times

  • "This is a book in which every line has a bite (.....) Stanley Chapman, the translator, is to be commended for preserving the liveliness and ingenuity of the style." - Ruby Millar, The Times

  • "(S)urely the most consistent and balanced of all of Boris Vian's novels. (...) The fact that such a profound bitterness about the ways of creation can exist alongside so transparent a delight in verbal and logical play gives L'écume des jours a central ambivalence which is much more disturbing than those exercises in the absurd that rely on mystification and on the multiplicity of possible interpretations." - John Sturrock, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The title is a wretched choice and a blot on Stanley Chapman's translation, which has been done with a kindly ingenuity that more than justifies his membership of the Collège de Pataphysique. (...) Like all of Boris Vian's best work, Froth on the Daydream starts with fun and ends, literally here, with funerals." - John Sturrock, 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:

Note: This review refers to Stanley Chapman's translation of L'écume des jours, originally published as Froth on the Daydream (1967, rev. 1970) and recently re-issued as Mood Indigo (UK: Serpent's Tail, 2013; US: FSG, 2014) -- but not to be confused with John Sturrock's translation, originally published as Mood Indigo (Grove Press, 1968).

       Froth on the Daydream is a vivid mix of bright and dark, a light romance with some very dark edges. Where even to begin ? Perhaps with the end, a closing paragraph that gives about as clear an idea of Vian's writing, tenor, and imagination as any single passage:

     The voices of eleven little girls, coming in a crocodile from the Orphanage of Pope John the Twenty-third, could be heard getting nearer. They were singing. And they were blind.
       The world of the novel is semi-fantastical -- the local unit of currency is 'doublezoons', the laws of nature seem rather more flexible -- and much that happens is slightly surreal. This is a world of which Vian can write, with a straight face: "The square was perfectly round", and where there are enormous underground aviaries, where, for example: "the Civic Controllers stored their spare pigeons for Public Squares and Monuments" -- and:
There were also resting places for weary sparrows, nesting places for rearing sparrows, and testing places for cheering sparrows.
       Yes, it's also a novel full of wordplay. 'Mood Indigo' may capture the feel of the novel, but Chapman's original title-in-translation, 'Froth on the Daydream' , come slightly closer to the actual meaning; Brian Harper's more recent translation opts for 'Foam of the Daze', which manages a decent pun on jours ('days'). Oulipo-member Chapman gamely tries his best in his 'anglicized' (as he calls it) version, though he errs in making some of the allusions more contemporary -- mention of film-maker Jacques Goon Luddard (i.e. Jean-Luc Godard) further unbalances a book that is already a tightrope act (and, despite floating in a freely imagined world, is otherwise subtly anchored in contemporary (anno 1946) culture).
       The central recognizable figure is Jean Pulse Heartre (author of, among others, Breathing and Stuffiness), a thinly-disguised Jean-Paul Sartre (meaning, of course, that 'the Marchioness de Mauvoir' lurks nearby). Colin is the young central figure of the novel, and his good friend Chick has lost himself entirely to the cult of Heartre, as he spends every doublezoon he gets his hand on on the master's work. As to what Vian thinks of Heartre's fanatical followers, a scene where the philosopher speaks publicly gives a good idea; as to what Vian thinks of Heartre's ideas ... well:
     Heartre had stood up and was showing the audience some samples of petrified vomit. The prettiest, containing sweetbreads, sauerkraut and cider, was an outstanding success.
       Petrified vomit ... not a ringing endorsement of the master's philosophy.
       Froth on the Daydream is, on one of its many levels, a love story, with Colin swept away by Chloe, the two madly in love and then, briefly, happily married -- but Chloe is a tragic heroine, felled by a devastating (and very odd) affliction.
       Froth on the Daydream isn't mere satire, though one can find enough of that throughout it. However, Vian layers on a great deal more: reveling in the possibilities of the fantasy-world he invents the story shifts easily from the realistically grounded to the absurd. Similarly, Vian (and Chapman) revel in word-play -- to the extent that some of the ideas and episodes seem driven merely by the verbal contortions they enable. Logical coherence remains a secondary concern, so most anything goes -- but Vian follows through sufficiently with his main characters to sustain an actual novel (rather than just collecting fantastical bits): there is certainly more than enough story here.
       This is the sort of fiction one has to be 'open' to, accepting that the author plays by a different (and not readily recognizable) set of rules and enjoying the ride. It has charm, poignancy, a lot of clever bits, and a great deal that is a lot of (strange) fun -- worth giving yourself into.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 June 2014

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Froth on the Daydream: Reviews (* refers to a different translation): Mood Indigo - the film: Boris Vian: Other books by Boris Vian under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Boris Vian lived 1920 to 1959.

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© 2014-2021 the complete review

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