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Zazie in the Metro [Paperback]

Raymond Queneau , Gilbert Adair , Barbara Wright
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 1 2001 Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics
Impish, foul-mouthed Zazie arrives in Paris from the country to stay with Gabriel, her female-impersonator uncle. All she really wants to do is ride the metro, but finding it shut because of a strike, Zazie looks for other means of amusement and is soon caught up in a comic adventure that becomes wilder and more manic by the minute. In 1960 Queneau's cult classic was made into a hugely successful film by Louis Malle. Packed full of word play and phonetic games, Zazie in the Metro remains as stylish and witty as ever.

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About the Author

Gilbert Adair, writer, film critic, and journalist, is the author of Love and Death on Long Island, among other novels.


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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Talk, talk, that's all you can do Nov. 17 2003
Format:Paperback
If you decide to read Zazie in the Metro, don't be surprised to find yourself thinking a bit like the story's quirky cast of characters: speaking with charmingly wordy phrases (e.g., "Picking up a syphon he purposed to cause its mass to reverberate against Gabriel's skull," rather than, "he hit Gabriel in the head with a bottle."), and forming words using unusual spellings (e.g., "Tsnot true, unkoo" instead of, "It's not true, uncle."). You may even find yourself looking at the world through Zazie's wide eyes, seeing things with the innocence of a child narrated with a vocabulary like Charles Bukowski's.
I pity poor translator Barbara Wright -- author Raymond Queneau's preferred translator, from what I understand -- for what must have been buckets of perspiration shed in what could have only worked as a labor of love. After all, this is a book is more about language and dialogue than it is about anything that could be mistaken for a plot.
The other main source of Zazie in the Metro's charm comes from its unusual roll call of characters. Aside from the always-interesting Zazie, the book offers the quixotic and curious "Unkoo" Gabriel, his dour sometimes foil Gridoux, and even a parrot called Laverdure, whose solitary line -- "Talk, talk, that's all you can do" -- seems to get blurted out only with exceptional timing.
It's easy to understand how this colorful tale inspired a generation of French readers and writers. It is even said to have had a hold on Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the director of the wonderful and similarly playful film, Amelie.
Compared to all this, the plot of this story hardly seems worth mentioning: young Zazie comes to Paris to visit her uncle, but what she really wants to do is ride on the metro for the first time.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Unique and Engaging Comedy Oct. 10 2003
Format:Paperback
Raymond Queneau has written a strange but tantalizing little novel about an adolescent named Zazie... she has a New York accent, and the mouth of a Henry Miller. Her misadventures in Paris, prove challenging to those around her,and amusing to the reader. It's a collage of seemimgly misplaced dialogue and eccentric characters, yet is easy to read and laugh with.
(Note: Queneau is, I think, an underappreciated genius. You can find out more about him by looking up the book "The OULIPO COMPENDIUM" here at Amazon, which contains his extraordinary "One-hundred-trillion sonnets." "Oulipans: rats who build the labyrinth from which they plan to escape" -- Raymond Queneau).
Zazie is less of a labyrinth and more of a amusement park, a good introduction to this imaginative writer. Probably not for those easily offended (nor is "Zazie" herself), but a little treasure worth looking for
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Talk, talk, that's all you can do Nov. 17 2003
By Eric J. Lyman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you decide to read Zazie in the Metro, don't be surprised to find yourself thinking a bit like the story's quirky cast of characters: speaking with charmingly wordy phrases (e.g., "Picking up a syphon he purposed to cause its mass to reverberate against Gabriel's skull," rather than, "he hit Gabriel in the head with a bottle."), and forming words using unusual spellings (e.g., "Tsnot true, unkoo" instead of, "It's not true, uncle."). You may even find yourself looking at the world through Zazie's wide eyes, seeing things with the innocence of a child narrated with a vocabulary like Charles Bukowski's.
I pity poor translator Barbara Wright -- author Raymond Queneau's preferred translator, from what I understand -- for what must have been buckets of perspiration shed in what could have only worked as a labor of love. After all, this is a book is more about language and dialogue than it is about anything that could be mistaken for a plot.
The other main source of Zazie in the Metro's charm comes from its unusual roll call of characters. Aside from the always-interesting Zazie, the book offers the quixotic and curious "Unkoo" Gabriel, his dour sometimes foil Gridoux, and even a parrot called Laverdure, whose solitary line -- "Talk, talk, that's all you can do" -- seems to get blurted out only with exceptional timing.
It's easy to understand how this colorful tale inspired a generation of French readers and writers. It is even said to have had a hold on Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the director of the wonderful and similarly playful film, Amelie.
Compared to all this, the plot of this story hardly seems worth mentioning: young Zazie comes to Paris to visit her uncle, but what she really wants to do is ride on the metro for the first time. Because of a strike, she can't, and she compensates with a string of other adventures.
Up until this point, I know, this does not sound like a three-star review (or three and a half, if that had been possible). I have given Zazie in the Metro what amounts to a so-so rating for reasons I am not too sure how to describe. The best explanation I can come up with is that despite all of the positive points made here, the book just failed to capture me; I never felt like I was part of the story. Somehow, its 157 pages seemed quite a bit longer, and sometimes the action became confused or obscured because of the clever word play. It was like a meal based on ingredients I adore, but which don't quite seem to work well together.

Yes, of course, buy and read Zazie in the Metro. Its place in Europe's literary cannon and the unusual mix of characters and language is enough to make that case. Besides, it's a book that an at least mildly adventurous literate person should know. I'll just hope it will be a bit more of a treat for you than it was for me.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique and Engaging Comedy Oct. 10 2003
By M. Allen Greenbaum - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Raymond Queneau has written a strange but tantalizing little novel about an adolescent named Zazie... she has a New York accent, and the mouth of a Henry Miller. Her misadventures in Paris, prove challenging to those around her,and amusing to the reader. It's a collage of seemimgly misplaced dialogue and eccentric characters, yet is easy to read and laugh with.
(Note: Queneau is, I think, an underappreciated genius. You can find out more about him by looking up the book "The OULIPO COMPENDIUM" here at Amazon, which contains his extraordinary "One-hundred-trillion sonnets." "Oulipans: rats who build the labyrinth from which they plan to escape" -- Raymond Queneau).
Zazie is less of a labyrinth and more of a amusement park, a good introduction to this imaginative writer. Probably not for those easily offended (nor is "Zazie" herself), but a little treasure worth looking for
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sugar and spice and everything nice - yeah, right! Nov. 29 1999
By Eric Petersen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Raymond Queneau's comic cult novel is an unjustly neglected classic that was once distributed by the same French publishing house that handled Burroughs' Naked Lunch and Miller's Tropic Of Cancer when no one else would dare. Zazie is a sassy, cynical, foulmouthed little girl who arrives in Paris to visit her uncle, a female impersonator. What Zazie really wants is to ride the Metro. Alas, the Metro workers are on strike, so our little heroine goes off on her own in search of adventure, driving her poor uncle nuts in the process. This wonderful book manages to be funny and heartwarming while maintaining a raunchy, satirical edge. A perfect book for a rainy day! Definitely not for children or the easily offended, but great entertainment for young-at-heart adults. Be sure to see Louis Malle's great 1960 movie version, which he directs with the pace and energy of a Roadrunner cartoon!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The queerest characters you can imagine June 12 2000
By Thomas Dworschak - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Queneau offers a caleidoscope of satirical views about Paris and the people there, and he populates his novel with truly bizarre guys. Zazie is a perhaps twelve-year old girl that comes to Paris with her mother for some days; the mother visits her lover, and Zazie visits her uncle Gabriel. Gabriel works as a dancer (with a balley costume) in a gays' night-club without being homosexual himself. Some of his friends (a shoemaker, a pub owner, a parakeet, a taxi driver, Gabriel's wife, an almost-rapist) make the scene complete.
Queneau does not forget to fill the book with swearwords and other vulgarities that are common in Paris, and he leaves no opportunity out to make everyone look ridiculous - a bus full of tourists, the "gendarmerie", the Parisian car drivers...
I laughed a lot.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How can I stop laughting? Jan. 9 2007
By Heriberto Silva - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is hilarious from begining to end. Not extrange it was his most selling book in France. Again, the translation is wonderful.
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