The Sunday of Life begins with the foul-mouthed shopowner, Julia Segovia, chatting to her sister whilst watching the twenty-something private, Valentin Brû, walking past her shop. Julia has decided to marry him and, with her sister’s help, proceeds to put this plan into action. And she’s going to marry him whether he wants to or not. Luckily enough Valentin is about to leave the army and has little ambition apart from becoming a road-sweeper. Valentin is listless and aimless but he is young, handsome and neither an alcoholic nor violent. As it turns out Julia and Valentin get on well together as both seem reasonably content to drift through life. After their marriage Valentin suggests a honeymoon but as Julia can’t, or won’t, close her haberdashery shop they decide that Valentin should go on their honeymoon alone! Valentin travels from Bordeaux to Paris, where he has trouble with the metro, taxis and his luggage, and from Paris to Bruges and then back to Paris, where, rather bizarrely he bumps into Julia who is attending the funeral of her mother’s boyfriend.
At times it’s difficult to keep track of what’s going on as it can be a bit opaque and some of the dialogue a bit cryptic but it’s a fun novel. Two more characters that feature prominently are Julia’s sister Chantal and her husband, Paul. Paul is a civil servant and is the target of much of Julia’s ire, but he’s not a bad sort—in fact none of the characters are horrible, but they all have their quirks. Valentin, for example, is rather naive and hasn’t really got a head for business, he’s quite a daydreamer, and later on in the novel he acquires the habit of trying to catch time by watching the clock in the picture-frame shop he now runs—during this ‘clock-watching’ he seems to have prophetic visions. Here is a conversation that Valentin has with Jean-Lackwit, a sort of simple-minded broom seller/beggar.
“I still can’t manage to watch the big hand for more than four minutes,” said Valentin, indicating Poucier’s clock with a look.
The other, following the movement of Valentin’s eyes, remained open-mouthed; but he turned smartly back to Valentin when the latter continued:
“After that time, either it’s as if I was falling asleep, I don’t know what I’m thinking any more and time passes and escapes my control, or else I’m invaded by images, my attention wanders, and it comes to the same thing; time has run out without my feeling it melt away through my fingers.”
Jean-Lockwit nodded understandingly.
“Pra, pra, pra, pra,” said he, “pra, pra, pra, pra, pra, pra, pra, pra, pra.”
Dreaming, he repeated this phrase once again.
“I watch time,” said Valentin, “but sometimes I kill it. That isn’t what I want.”
The other raised his arms into the air, and let them fall again with lassitude and compassion.
I very nearly abandoned the novel after a few pages as I wasn’t really in the mood for anything frivolous but I ended up quite liking this absurd, silly novel and its equally absurd, but likeable characters. Queneau manages to maintain the silliness without going totally overboard. I really should read this again when I’m in a more favourable state of mind. It’s my first Queneau book but won’t be my last as I still haven’t read Zazie in the Metro.
4 responses to “‘The Sunday of Life’ by Raymond Queneau (ReadIndies – Oneworld/Alma)”
Good choice for #ReadIndies! I loved this when I read it, and thought the wordplay was wonderful!
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I found the wordplay and dialogue a bit annoying at first, but that may well have been me just not being in the right mood. I’d been meaning to read this for ages so I should have enjoyed it. I liked it in the end but found the second-half more fun, especially all the nonsense about time and the clairvoyant business.
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Being a road sweeper would be too energetic for me. My ambition is to be a night watchman and sit huddled over a brazier all night. No clocks though, they just make killing time harder. (Yes another book I haven’t read, by an author I’ve never heard of)
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I don’t know, like Valentin, I can see the attraction of road sweeping. Later on in the novel, after he gets a broom from the strange character in the quote, he gets pleasure from sweeping up the shop. In fact he starts to have visions – it gets a little strange at that point, which I like.