12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
"Somebody perfectly free has no urge to do anything at all.",
This review is from: Heartsnatcher (French Literature Series (Normal, Ill.).) (Paperback)
In descriptions so richly imagined that he sometimes has to invent new words, Boris Vian brings to life the strange world discovered by a wandering traveler, Timortis, a psychiatrist who has been born an adult and has no memories of his own. An "empty vessel," he believes that if he can learn everything there is to know about someone through psychoanalysis, he can bring about a transferrence of identity and make his own life more complete. When he hears the cries of Clementine, a village woman giving birth to triplets, he stops to give aid and ends up delivering her sons--Noel, Joel, and Alfa Romeo.
Though the birthing scene is humorous, the full satirical flavor and the allegorical construction of this novel do not unfold until Timortis travels into the village. There he discovers that he has arrived just in time for the Old Folks Fair, at which old people are auctioned off like cattle and treated like them. Later Timortis visits a shop where he sees a child being worked to the verge of death, then revived with icewater. Farm animals, however, are given days off when they behave themselves and allowed to hitchhike if they need rides. A scapegoat, named Glory Hallelujah, retrieves putrid, decaying things from a blood-red stream with his teeth, his job being to "swallow the shame of the whole village." The vicar announces that "God is not utilitarian. God is a birthday present...a luxury, a tasseled cushion made of beaten gold." A horse is crucified for his sexual depravity. Additional bizarre episodes abound, leaving the reader to ponder the meaning of the non-stop action, at the same time that s/he is whisked along by the speed of Vian's prose to new and still more surprising events.
Puns, word play, and literary inventions fill the novel, even as Vian's often lyrical sentences and vibrant descriptions set the scenes. Satirizing the existing world for some of its most obvious faults, Vian presents a remarkably open-ended allegory, which makes the reader think at the same time that s/he often laughs at the absurdities and winces at the truths. But this is no full-blown alternative universe created to illustrate a serious and specific political or social agenda. Here Vian symbolically smiles at the reader as he leads Timortis through this strange community from episode to episode, illustrating his own opinions in a more or less random way, having fun all the time, while making some serious points. Not scholarly, though highly literate, this is a book for which one must buckle up, sit back, and just enjoy the ride. Mary Whipple