Raymond Queneau was a writer with a great understanding of language and its possibilities. His ability to employ everyday speech, including its rhythms, colloquialisms, obscenities and puns, resulted in deeply humorous and imaginative works, which often centred around his entertaining manipulation of language and narrative, as in Exercises in Style and the Flight of Icarus, both recently republished by Oneworld Classics. He was also a keen and witty social observer and portrayer of character, which is demonstrated in his 1952 work, The Sunday of Life.
When middle-aged shop-owner Julia Segovia stubbornly decides that she’s going to marry the handsome, if exceedingly young, soldier who walks past her premises each day, her sister and brother-in-law are aghast – more out of fear for their daughter’s inheritance than the probable success of the marriage. With no firm ideas concerning his future upon finishing his service (having never been promoted beyond the lowly rank of private), the ambivalent and somewhat simple Valentin Brû willingly goes along with her scheme.
Thereafter we follow the next four years of Brû’s life, as he contends with disgruntled in-laws, a ‘monstrous’ cook, numerous eccentric locals, his vulgar and cunning wife, a shifty career in fortune-telling, the approaching threat of war with Germany, and the mysteries of Parisian public transport. Brû’s eternally optimistic personality and complete lack of malice means that he responds positively and with naive charm to the most negative of circumstances – but his overt simplicity hides from most his special insight into people’s lives and future events. Even the outbreak of war does not weary his spirits.
With a cast of eccentric characters, amusing incidents and a remarkably positive outlook, especially when one considers the period in which the novel is set, The Sunday of Life is both intelligent and highly accessible: featuring Queneau’s imaginative and playful use of language, sly wit and delight in the absurdity of people and situations.