Romain Gary Auberon Waugh - Essay

Auberon Waugh

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[White Dog] is so boring and so disgusting that I would not review it at all if it did not demonstrate one reaction to the foreigners' predicament most vividly. Briefly, the foreigners' predicament is that they have no money and nobody is interested in what they think. Gary reckons to make a fortune by insulting the Americans, and I dare say he will succeed. Many of the things he says about black racists, professional Negroes and white liberals are perfectly valid, even if a trifle obvious. It is his repulsive way of saying it—spattering his narrative with he-man obscenities and unnecessary references to pus—which reveals the full depth of his intellectual dishonesty. Instead of telling intelligent, enlightened people what he feels wrong about race relations, he stages a one-man anti-American demonstration, which is doubly unsuccessful because the demonstrator is covered with warts, pus etc.

Although written in the form of a novel, the story features Gary as hero (whipping himself for making so much money from his compassion over the Negro problem) and his ex-wife, Jean Seberg, who loves the human race uncritically. The story itself is quite a good one, about a dog trained to attack Negroes which is taken by a Black Muslim and trained to attack whites. It would make an excellent novel, written by someone else. Even Gary could have improved it if he had taken out the repulsive face of the fictional Gary, although this would deprive us of the highly enjoyable ending when the fictional Gary is mauled by his own dog.

But what the real Gary fails to realize is that his fictional ex-wife, Jean Seberg, is an entirely comic character—sympathetic and charming, of course, but essentially comical—and so is the whole goodwill movement among middle-class Americans in relation to black militancy. Instead of which, Gary broods darkly about pus and excrement, hoping to replace idiotic excesses of radical chic with a new idiocy, that of anti-radicalchic. This is a most bogus and unpleasant book, but worth reading to discover what some Frenchmen think they can get away with. (pp. 248-49)

Auberon Waugh, "Auberon Waugh on Foreign Novels," in The Spectator (© 1971 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 227, No. 7468, August 14, 1971, pp. 248-49.∗