Critical Context

The Bark Tree was Queneau’s first and most influential novel. It has become well-known as the forerunner of the modern avant-garde novel and as one of the first works to use random events, minimal structure, and experimental language. His other works include Un Rude Hiver (1939; A Hard Winter, 1948), Pierrot mon ami (1942; Pierrot, 1950), Le Dimanche de la vie (1952; The Sunday of Life, 1976), and Zazie dans le metro (1959; Zazie in the Metro, 1960). Queneau also wrote a parody of traditional literary forms entitled Exercices de style (1947; Excercises in Style, 1958).

The wild humor of The Bark Tree is found in all Queneau’s work. He delighted in manipulating language, reforming it to create new words or reshaping words to take on new forms, and The Bark Tree was his first attempt at achieving a break with literary convention and the French novelistic tradition.

Queneau also carefully hid any structure so as to give the reader, at first glance, a sense that The Bark Tree is formless, a collage of often unrelated elements. In so doing, he imitated the patterns and rhythms of life. Thus, all of his later works bear the stamp of seeming aimlessness found in The Bark Tree because Queneau believed that no one can reduce reality to a formula. Yet there is structure in Queneau’s novels, hidden though it is: Events are connected to other events, however tenuously, and people’s lives impinge upon the lives of others.

Queneau’s characters helped change the twentieth century novel. They are at once both cardboard cutouts and memorable personages, aimless and strangely meaningful. The figures are not realistic, for they are not developed as fully as were the characters of Charles Dickens or Fyodor Dostoevski. More type than individual, the Queneau character nevertheless is a vibrant creation, full of life and enthusiasm.