3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
How I Became Stupid is, at best, irrevocably, an enigma. It's charming, frustrating, playful, dark, whimsical yet damning, and - overall - difficult to sum its total without breaking down its parts. However; it is easy to define just what Stupid promises - or at least appears to: a witty read, rife with witticisms with which you can wittily impress upon your friends...in wit, of course. It is a cult hit after all. Yet, How I Became Stupid does manage to defy the many self-satisfied presumptions that the oft-elitist genre of alternative reading is so apt to fall to.
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.