We usually spend time together talking about style, elegance and good manners. However, I tell you quite often that one of the most elegant thing in the world is knowledge. I hope that, through this series, you will expand your literary culture, and that we will be able to talk about the reviewed books together in order to expand our knowledge together. Today, I want to start a series with you, in which I will review several French, Irish, British or American books (sometimes, we will cover other types of literature as well, especially Russian and Greek). As you may (or may not) know, I have been studying foreign literature in college for three years now, but I have spent a few years studying French literature before getting specialized in literature of the English-speaking world. That is the reason why I feel quite confident talking about such a deep subject, hoping I will be able to have you interested, help you understand the literary culture of my country and have you want to read these books yourself.
NB: This book is not available for free on the Internet, but you can certainly find a second-hand version for really cheap online or at your local library. It is also available here.
Quick presentation of the book
We will begin this new series with quite a tough, but such a beautiful novel. I am talking about the faux-monnayeurs by André Gide, translated into The Counterfeiters published in 1925 and first translated in 1927. Contrary to what we could think when reading the title, this book does not (really) talks about money, but about relationships. There is, indeed, a story about real counterfeiters, but this is a tiny little subplot. The genuine counterfeiters are the liars.
Main topics of the book
I will be really quick on this part as giving you too much information may spoil your enjoyment of the novel (that, I hope, you will be willing to read at the end of this post).
This book, as we just saw and will study more in depth in the next part, is divided into several plots and these plots involve several characters coming from different families and social backgrounds. The main topic of the book, according to me, is “human relationships”, honesty and lies. I think André Gide manages to be really honest about human nature, covering both its beautiful and disgusting aspects.
Among relationships, Gide’s favorite ones in this novel seem to be romantic relationships. He gives a deep reflection all through the book on the nature of love, and the fact that, according to him, love can never be complete as we all love something we idealize about somebody else which make it a “counterfeited love”. André Gide also differentiates sexuality from love, discussing the idealization of sex by young men and the deception it can lead to.
André Gide also covers family relationships, especially the topic of fatherhood The question seems to be “Is it blood, or is it love that makes a father a father?” and homosexual relationships. Love between two men is one of the main topics of the book. We indeed can understand from the very beginning the importance of homo-eroticism, an eroticism that will reach its paroxysm in the end the novel only…
The beautiful structure of the novel: a game of echoes
Main plot and subplots
This book is, in my eyes, a total masterpiece. When I first studied it four years ago in high-school, most of my classmates hated it, but the reason for it is, according to me, the lack of understanding of it. This book is indeed really intricate and complicated at first sight. Why? Because most people are only looking for the “counterfeiters” referred to in the title, and totally miss the whole point of the entire novel. That is the goal of the author. The story is divided in several subplots that are all about relationships and lies; the subplots are actually the ones that matter, and the main plot (the story of the counterfeiters) is only there to give structure to the text and have the reader a little lost. In this book, the main plot becomes a subplot, and the subplots become essential.
Not only a novel – a game with the narration
What I love the most about this novel, you would have understand, is the structure of it. Every story echoes the others, and they all tend to converge at some point or another. The novel is made of different plots, but also of different narrations as we are given a “classic” third-person narration as well as letters coming out of nowhere and lots of entries from “Le journal d’Edouard” (translation, Edward’s Diary). The reader is also given lots of epigraphs (sentences written in the beginning of a chapter), usually taken from Shakespeare and that were not translated into French in the original text. This gives depth to the novel and shows the importance of intertextuality (coexistence of texts – idea that all texts are more or less interconnected) in Gide’s work.
The relationship between the author and the narrator
The main narrator in the novel is Edward (as we readers have access to entires from his diary). The writer himself, André Gide, had a diary when writing his novel Les faux-monnayeurs. It would be going a little too far to say that Edward is representation of Gide, but the parallel is worth acknowledging : they are both authors writing a diary while they are writing their books. Gide actually published his diary, entitled Journal des faux-monnayeurs (translated into Journal of the Counterfeiters)
A novel that echoes life
I personally think that this very complicated structure of the novel echoes the very complicated nature of life itself. Life is indeed unpredictable, and things never happen as simply, gracefully and easy to understand as they usually do appear in books. This is probably one of th things that disturb in this book; it is far too close to the nature of life for people who have not yet understand (or want to understand) how messy it all is.
Hoping you will want to read (or re-read) this masterpiece,