Essay questions have been released which means that I haven’t had a lot of spare time to read something that isn’t based on the modernisation of Paris at the beginning of the 20th century. However, there is still a review this week because I actually really enjoyed one of the texts on the reading list and it was a book I had heard lots of people talk about before, so was on my mental ‘to read’ list. The book is largely a surrealist text, which is something I haven’t been massively into in the past, but something about this book just really made me love it!
The book’s beginning sentence: ‘Qui suis-je?’ (‘Who am I?’) instantly grabbed my attention, as I could tell the narrator was going to be unreliable…if they’re admitting don’t know themselves, how are they going to recount a whole book’s worth of narrative? And from that point, it is quite apparent that the narrator doesn’t really know what exactly happened. However, instead of this being annoying or frustrating, it is actually incredibly interesting, as it requires active readership- we must constantly work to realise that certain events didn’t happen in the order we are being told, and may not have happened exactly how we are told. And this active readership is essential to comprehension (although, I’m not sure I completely understand the book), but most importantly, enjoyment of the narrative. Without paying attention, it would be impossible to understand why certain things are significant.
Having said I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I must admit that had I not any previous knowledge of the era or of similar authors and poets from the period, perhaps I would have enjoyed it less because I might not have understood the significance of references that Breton makes, or why certain attitudes within the book are important. Although, I wouldn’t necessarily say that you have to have a sound knowledge of the period to enjoy the book, a simple wikipedia search of contemporary artists and authors and their ideas would probably suffice.
What I did like most about the book, and what seems to be one of the most important themes, is its focus on identity and how this can change and be altered, depending on a series of different things, such as who we meet, our physical surroundings and our daily routine. I feel that this gave the book so much more to offer, than if characters had been sound in their personal identity and did not consider that they were more than the moment. In fact, because the characters did question their identity so much, it almost forces the reader to do so, and I think this brings an important lesson: to realise that we can and will be so much more than we are in any one given moment.
Overall, I would highly recommend Nadja (in french or in english), it is just such a different type of book that you are likely to read, but a book that can offer so much more than simply enjoyment. At under 200 pages, it does not take long to read, which means that even if you decide surrealism is not for you, you have at least decided that after what I believe to be a great example of a text in that genre.