Critical Context

Zazie in the Metro, the most popular of Queneau’s novels (Louis Malle made it into a film), was his seventeenth book. It was preceded by Le Dimanche de la vie (1952; The Sunday of Life, 1976) and followed by Les Fleurs bleues (1965; The Blue Flowers , 1967) and Le Vol d’Icare (1968; The Flight of Icarus, 1973). Before Zazie in the Metro, Queneau was best-known for his Exercices de style (1947; Exercises in Style, 1958). A poet and a novelist, Queneau also wrote on science, philosophy, history, and mathematics. He was an editor for Gallimard, the publishing house, and the director of the Encyclopedie de la Pleiade. He also wrote a number of screenplays.

Queneau was a great admirer of James Joyce, as well as of William Faulkner and Joseph Conrad. A member, along with Engene Ionesco, of the College de Pataphysique, a strange organization devoted to the bizarre tradition of Alfred Jarry, and with more than a passing acquaintance with Dadaism and Surrealism, Queneau was an eclectic. A student of Plato and Hegel, he was interested in ordinary people and in the philosophical implications of everyday life, but his surpassing love was of language itself. His writing frequently attempts to reproduce spoken language, with its neologisms, street slang, and allusions turned upside down. For Queneau, the banal repetition of spoken words becomes exciting and comical, revealing both the sense and the nonsense of the human condition.