(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In Zazie in the Metro, Raymond Queneau presents a world of apparent meaninglessness, a world opposed to authority of any variety, where death is devoid of meaning and where one value is as fine as another. His characters are not constructed of many facets, but simply there. They are given substance by the incongruous but dominant traits manifested in the here and now of the novel. These traits can be neither disputed nor discussed in terms of cause and effect. Much of the humor of the novel derives from the words themselves: puns, allusions of all sorts, Parisian street language, sexual insults with myriad implications. Queneau attacks both the rigidity of written French and the narrow-minded prudery of bourgeois society.

The action of the novel is circular: Zazie arrives in Paris by train, stays with her uncle, Gabriel, and departs from Paris thirty-six hours later. Zazie’s one goal before her arrival has been to ride the metro, but the metro is shut down because of a strike.

The world of this novel unites the Paris that tourists see, such as the Eiffel Tower, with the underground Paris of street-smart denizens who take over the city after dark. Queneau’s vital linguistic world serves to create a mood or atmosphere in which the characters and their actions are less significant than the manner in which they are described. Hence, Zazie in the Metro is a farcical comedy, using constant reversals of language, of situation, and of identity—usually sexual identity—as sources of humor. Finally, it is clear that Queneau’s farce demonstrates the idiocy of assigning personality traits to individuals on the basis of gender.

The plot, such as it is, focuses on a young girl, Zazie, who has been left with her uncle so that her mother can pursue her Parisian lover. Because Gabriel works at night, Zazie is left alone in the morning while he sleeps. Gabriel’s landlord, Turandot, sees her in the street and tries to stop her from exploring Paris alone. Zazie, however, manipulates the assembled crowd, telling them that he is trying to make her do unspeakable things. Turandot is nearly lynched and only with difficulty sneaks back to his own turf.

Zazie is soon approached by a man who feeds her and speaks of blue jeans; while she does not trust him, she desperately wants “blewgenes,” which the man buys for her....

(The entire section is 970 words.)