Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Sunday of Life is Raymond Queneau’s thirteenth novel, but it was the first of his works to enjoy an overwhelming public acceptance. Along with Zazie dans le metro (1959; Zazie in the Metro, 1960), it marked a change in Queneau’s novelistic career away from the somber and often-pessimistic atmosphere of his early work and toward a more sunny and cheerful approach. Queneau also wrote the script for the screen adaptation by Claude Chabrol, which enjoyed wide popular success.

Queneau was a leading figure in the French literary world for more than forty years. From his early works, which owe their existence in part to his collaboration with the Surrealist movement, and the works in his middle career such as The Sunday of Life, which were more popular in orientation, to his meditative and philosophical later works, Queneau remained a writer fascinated with the materiality of language. More than any other writer of his century perhaps, he was responsible for the acceptance in France of wordplay and slang into the realm of serious literature. In many ways, his work anticipated the experimentalism of the New Novel movement of the 1960’s.

The Sunday of Life is arguably Queneau’s most cheerful work. Essentially a domestic comedy, the novel shows that a work with a light tone that treats simple characters can nevertheless raise important questions about language and show how the language people use reveals their implicit metaphysical thinking. As with all Queneau’s work, The Sunday of Life is an important example of how ordinary life, through the scrutiny of language, can be made to yield an extraordinary richness.