Raymond Queneau’s long fiction can be characterized by its wordplay, humor, and attentive concern with the lives of people living in ordinary circumstances. His pursuit of radical linguistic measures—such as that of James Joyce, who among other English-language authors served as his literary model—is almost always tied to a depiction of working-class and lower-middle-class conditions. In fact, the language experiments that most identify Queneau’s originality are his various ways of representing colloquial and slang expressions, or how real people actually talk. Interwoven with the depiction of the lives of ordinary people are an extraordinary number of learned allusions, buried quotations, and philosophical statements. Paradoxical as it may seem, Queneau’s work points to the level of what might be called metaphysical thinking even by characters who would not know the meaning of the word. For Queneau, philosophy is interesting and useful primarily as it reflects the insights of simple people, which are often of a startling profundity.
A Hard Winter
Queneau’s novels of the 1930’s deal with a range of subjects, from the lives of ordinary people in Le Havre, his birthplace, to his war experience in North Africa, to some of the crazy artists he knew in part through his associations with the Surrealists. A Hard Winter may be taken as representative of Queneau’s work from this decade. Set during World War I, the winter...
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