How I Became Stupid Paperback – Nov 30 2004
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Twenty-five-year-old Parisian Antoine is sick. The disease? Intelligence. Desperate to find a cure for his overactive brain, Antoine considers alcoholism, suicide, and lobotomy, but none seems quite right for his special needs. A new job, though, is just the ticket. Accepting a position in his high-school friend's brokerage firm, Antoine finds the burdens of consciousness gradually slipping away. This delightfully over-the-top debut novel was a smash when it was published in France in 2001, but will it play as well stateside? After all, the mediocrity that Antoine deems essential to being happy in today's society features many elements common to mainstream American culture. Still, there is always an audience--if not an enormous one--for novels that skewer thick-headed simplicity, and this absurdist comedy mounts a formidable attack. Only an abrupt and puzzlingly optimistic ending detracts from the note of cheerful pessimism that drives the story. Beth Leistensnider
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A harmonious and surprising mixture of optimism and nihilism. (La Vie Magazine)
A wild yet powerful book. (Elle)
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Now, this may seem like an idiotic thought, but to Antoine it makes sense because his attempts at becoming an alcoholic failed, after only a half-glass, and his suicide instructor accidentally led him away from the morbid path. Go figure.
Overall, this book is a glimpse, as one reviewer put it, into Antoine's "wonderful existential journey." Not too deep mind you, and that is one of the main faults. This book, sensibly enough, is especially alluring to the reader who finds that he or she relates to Antoine - pre-stupidity attempts. In this sense we feel his pain, and see a tidbit of ourselves. However, as previously mentioned, this book is short and does not offer us the expanded view, into either ourselves or existentialism in general, that we might have wanted.
(Also especially poignant for the Huckabees fan)
Despite the delightful cover and promise of a rather light read - Martin Page gives us anything but; the book, though short, is densely compact and wholly absorbing. Beneath its quick and sharp charm lies a more nuanced truth that reaches near apocalyptic suppositions. Yet, despite the "runaway train" effect that the acerbic story impresses, Martin Page dismisses the social pessimism that his character embraces in favor, however grudgingly, of a more optimistic outlook. By pointing out all the logical fallacies of such black thinking with spry humor - most especially when spiraling in the deepest depths of human misery - we are able to be left only amused and so then embrace the positive message written behind the (comically) dark events.
The premise of the book is that its main character, Antoine, believes that intelligence leads only to sufferance. With this conclusion, he embarks on a twisted odyssey to find happiness - by becoming stupid. This takes him everywhere from alcoholism, to suicide, to worldly success, and beyond.
It stands true that, throughout the novel, there remains a constant fracture between the author's stance and that of his characters. Page maintains a view pitted against the banalities of idiocy even as Antoine yearns for it. It is in this way that Page celebrates most completely the intellectualism that Antoine rebels against. Yet, then again, nothing is safe from Martin Page's exacting gaze and he is quick to point out the banality, of another sort, that intellectuals are prone to as well:
Rodolphe was a pure product of the education system and could expect to be appointed as an assistant professor within the next two years, to be promoted to university professor in about seven years, and to die in perfect obscurity some sixty years later, leaving a body of work that would influence generations of termites.
In fact the deprecation of vacuity - both of the stupid and knowledgeable kind - is a running theme of Stupid. It offers instead a celebration of true intelligence that imparts whole-hearted optimism. True optimism is Stupid's highest exaltation in antithesis to its exploration in the pessimism and destruction of the self.
Antoine is trapped in a parable covering the plight of the common man; even as he feels most estranged from them. He looses this commonality, most ironically, when he conforms to the two-dimensional caricatures of his world, and so separates himself from us, the reader; the most three-dimensional personage involved. In this greatest contradiction Page makes his greatest conclusion: society, optimism, pessimism, are all to be accepted in their edifying, self-gratifying, vacuous, and meaningful splendor.