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more anguish over that book

In today's New York Times, Alan Riding reviews Frédéric Beigbeder's Windows on the World. [For background on this book, read here, here , here, here and here].

One has to wonder if Riding read the book at all. He gushes over Beigbeder and omits any reference to those parts of the novel that read like third-rate porn and portray America as having deserved the attacks of 9/11 for being obsessed with money and material things; for being consumers, so to speak.

No, I have not read the book. But I have read enough excerpts to know that the story is an appalling view of what happened in the Windows of the World restaurant on 9/11. Though some have taken issue with W's excerpts over at Merde in France, stating that W. has ulterior motives and might not have given a correct translation, I took it upon myself to seek out a few translators here in my building who are fluent in French. They gave the same translations as W.

It is not a matter of context, either. Reviewing the book as Riding did without alluding to the crass portions of the story where Beigbeder has the victims - identified only by the designer labels of the clothing they are wearing - engaging in hedonistic sex, is to do omit a large part of what has made the book so popular in France.

Instead, Riding focuses on the part of the story where a father and his sons are having breakfast in the restaurant:

He tries to reassure the boys that it is a simulated accident to test security procedures, but they soon see through the ruse. As panic spreads and the heat become unbearable, Yorston and his sons prepare to die.

Yet for all that, Mr. Beigbeder has not written a movie-style action story.

He hasn’t? What about this excerpt, one that was toted by the publishers before the book hit the shelves? (again, translated by several different people with the same results):

- As far as I'm concerned, it's simple: forget the Porsche, I'm liquid, said the brown haired guy wearing Kenneth Cole. But I'm sure that 2002 will be better, just wait until Greenspan does his thing on the rates. - I love you, said the blond wearing Ralph Lauren. - I want to launch a hostile takeover on you, said the brown haired guy wearing Kenneth Cole. - Leave your fucking wife, said the blond wearing Ralph Lauren. - OK, I swear I'll tell her everything this evening when I get back from the health spa, said the brown haired guy wearing Kenneth Cole. And they French kissed real deep, using alot of tongue just like in the California made porno films and perfume commercials.

No, maybe it’s not movie-style action. It’s more like straight-to-Cinemax action, which is a serious slap in the face to anyone who suffered on that day. And most of us did suffer, whether we knew someone who died in those attacks or not.

Riding then goes on to help explain why Beigbeder wrote the book at all:

"In the face of American self-censorship, I wanted to give form to this tragedy," [Beigbeder] said, adding that American television viewers saw "an asceptic, almost clinical" version of events. He said he wanted "to reinject colors, smells, noises, to reintroduce the human dimension that has been carefully removed," adding, "A novel should enter forbidden territory."

We do not need Mr. Beigbeder to “give form” to such a tragedy. It already has form for us. What asceptic, clinical versions of the events is he referring to? Watching the second plane crash into the towers? Seeing the posters and cards tacked to the walls, pictures of missing people desperately being searched for by their families, the harrowing stories of the firemen who rushed into the building in order to get others out? Colors, noises and smells? Just ask anyone who was in the vicinity of NYC that day about the smells and noises. And what colors do we need to know except the colors of flames and smoke? Does it matter that someone was wearing a blue Donna Karan suit? No, it would not matter if they were wearing a Blue Light special from K-Mart. And I certainly fail to see where the human dimension has been removed from that day. What gall this man has to assume that he can sit in “while breakfasting at Ciel de Paris, the 56th-floor restaurant in the Tour Montparnasse, the tallest building in Paris” and channel what the people in the Windows on the World were thinking and feeling at those moments. The arrogance is astounding.

I spoke to W about this today in email and he gave me permission to excerpt a few of his choice words, but you would do best to keep checking over at Merde in France, where W. will be writing about this review, the book and the other books mentioned in Riding’s empty review.

W. thinks that perhaps Riding never really read the book at all:

Note that the reviewer omits any mention of the chapters with the nameless characters (only identified by their clothing labels). I find that a bit curious and it leads me to believe that the reviewer is just gushing over promotional material from Grasset (the publisher) rather than taking in the entire book.

W. also said:

Beigbeder defends the book as siding with the victims (ie. writing about, and therefore living vicariously, the experience from their point of view). This is the line that the French literati, and the NYT, have adopted. That is all well and good but then of course you have to read the book and see if the content (ie. the excerpts I have sent to you and posted on my site) are appropriate.

I'm sorry but the book contains vile, exploitive content and the worst excerpt (the porno scene at the end) was actually selected for promoting the novel.

Rumor has it that Beigbeder will be nominated for the Goncourt literary prize for this novel.

Once again, the comments will be filled with people saying I am French-bashing, but at this moment (though I did in previous posts about this) I am not. I am Beigbeder-bashing. And I am taking Andrew Riding to task for glossing over what is an inflammatory, insulting and degrading book, in light of the real tragedy that occurred in that restaurant. The publishers released a statement a while ago that said the only way to know what happened in the Windows on the World that day is to make it up. Not so. There are real transcripts of telephone calls from real people saying real words.

I don’t have to read the whole book to know that just the one part where Beigbeder turns tragedy to porn makes the rest of the story a complete washout. I don’t care if there is Pulitzer type writing throughout the rest of the book; the fact that Beigbeder chose to play fast and furious with the last moments of the lives of real people - and less than two years gone since it happened - leaves the rest of the book tainted by the poison that exists within it.

If you want to know the "human dimension" and colors and smells and noises of that day that Beigbeder seems to think has disappeared or maybe weren't even there at all, go listen to (read) these Voices.

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Comments

I just keep wondering how a book about all the happy french people fucking away on their vacations while their mothers and fathers roasted to death would sell.

Roasted in 'modern' hospitals that lack climate control. In nursing homes that are incapable of making ice.

And the best part is, the porn in this book will only have to pause momentarily, as many of the french, upon hearing of their parents demise, had them stacked in meat lockers rather than interrupt their vacations.

Think of the names that we can drop--Jacques Chirac himself couldn't be bothered to come home to handle the crisis.

And, since no one was there to hear these elderly people, left to fend for themselves while their families were off on vacation, we can put any words in their mouths we like. They can curse their families--their government--their god.

Of course, no onw here will do that. It's just repulsive. Low. Gauche.

hey michele, i like the new layout, but mozilla is mangling the boxes so that the entry runs out of it.

Does it matter that someone was wearing a blue Donna Karan suit? No, it would not matter if they were wearing a Blue Light special from K-Mart. And I certainly fail to see where the human dimension has been removed from that day.

Actually, to the French public, it probably matters a great deal. These were capitalist Americans. They were greedy Enron trading, peasant opressing, capitalists.

If they were to have names, instead of being identified by their expensive clothing, they might actually earn sympathy for being human beings.

To not name them removes a dimension of their humanity. Furthermore, having an orgy in the face of this tragedy further proves their reckless stupidity.

The asceptic version, lacking color and smell, is what he considers the whitewash of the "root cause" of this tragedy. The color he smears these nameless people with is brown and the smell is quite fecal. He was portraying capitalists as drowning in their own shit.

This is the human dimension that the author felt was lost in all the "clinical" symapthy; decadence.

I just keep wondering how a book about all the happy french people fucking away on their vacations while their mothers and fathers roasted to death would sell.

It only works with nameless capitalists. You just can't be happy about someone's death unless they are decadent, nameless, capitalist, pigs that deserve to die. Pensioners do not receive the same emotional reaction as "the man wearing Keneth Cole".

Once again, I'll read the whole novel before I condemn it.

For me, the fact that an orgy takes place while the buildings are crumbling speaks volumes about the enjoyment the author had while the buildings fell. It was pornography for him.

J. J. FINN:

Save yourself the trouble. I've read it, in the original. Imagine if you can a bad translation into French of Bret Easton Ellis's worst and most unreadable trash. Imagine that retranslated into English. If you can stomach it without enduring projectile vomiting, you would deserve the Omnivore Prize of all time.

Tell 'em John! They should forget Beigbeder and pick up on some Miss Tic!

I haven't read the whole book. But the excerpts I've seen do not inspire confidence in the author's mission.

Henry Miller defending his books:

"If it was not good, it was true; if it was not artistic, it was sincere; if it was in bad taste, it was on the side of life."

The same cannot it seems be said of this sad book or its inexplicable author.

What's troubling is the dehumanizing description of the victims--and the object lesson: obviously, that these were not fully human people engaged in human activities; these were simply consumer automata engaged in the dull venality and small intrigues bread by a devolved and degraded culture.

There are circles, one supposes, in which this passes as macabre satire, but it certainly doesn't seem to be on the side of life; nor on the side of the people who died that morning. And when one imagines the unthinkable horror of those final moments, all one can do is shake the head and feel worse about it all.

Well, I didn't read the book (and I don't think I will as Beigbeder really irritate me...) but here are some infos :
Windows on the world got mixed reviews in France, high praises or strong criticism , but no one including conservative editorialists really noticed the porn passages as important.
The general feeling among reviewers is that the book creates a feeling of empathy and compassion for the victims of 9/11.
The book sells well : it's on the top five at La Fnac (France biggest bookstores chain).
As far as I can tell (his french is way better than my english...) Bill's translations are accurate and generally colloquial.

And a question :
John Van Laer made a reference to Brett Easton Ellis. Was he shocked when, in Glamorama, BEE staged bombings in the paris subway (such bombings really happened), with extensive graphic descriptions and not a trace of compassion ? As a parisian I wasn't.

Was this book written by a child? The last time I saw such stupid and clumsy prose was in a high school writing class. It's a staple of teen fiction to define characters by their clothes and other taste badges.

Maybe this is postmodernism as self-parody: porn meets prose.

Criticizing a book because of the immorality of its characters is just plain silly. A lot of the world's best literature portrays immoral characters. Read any Dostoievsky recently?

I haven't read the book and I wouldn't be surprised if its not very good. But I'm certainly not prepared to make that judgment before reading it in the original French.

Philip Roth's books are full of porn scenes. In Portnoy's Complaint, as I remember, the narrator masturbates into a roast beef later served for dinner at the family table. And yet Roth is one of the very best writers alive. The French recognize this - "The Human Stain" was one of the top-10 selling novels in France last year. Is it possible the French are more enlightened than us?

Umm, Scoop - no one is criticizing the book because the characters are immoral - the book is being criticized because REAL people suffered and died in the event that the author is fictionalizing and he is "dehumanizing" teh thousands who died that day and deliberately turning them into immoral characters - remember, REAL people!

"the book is being criticized because REAL people suffered and died in the event that the author is fictionalizing and he is "dehumanizing" teh thousands who died that day" - Shanti

Real people should only be written about if they are sainted and placed on a moral pedestal? Or should REAL people not be written about at all? I guess that might explain all those unicorn books you like to read...

Let me explain this to you real slow, Burny.

People. Really Died. In. That. Restaurant.

They did not do the things the author writes about.

He made up bad things about real people. Real dead people.

Get it yet?

Okay, Michele.
I didn't REALize that REAL people died. There should be a law that you can't write about 9/11 victims unless...what? the Bush administration okays the copy first? Or maybe only Americans should be able to write about 9/11...or better yet, Bush-approved Americans! That would produce the best results, both factually and artistically.

Did you ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe, some of those victims weren't all that moral or just. And that maybe is what the author was getting at? Maybe your view of humanizing is different from his and mine and the other guys?

Do you read unicorn books, too? (oh, and if so, aren't there bad unicorns? If there's not, what is the plot? I was just wondering...)

"Did you ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe, some of those victims weren't all that moral or just. And that maybe is what the author was getting at?"

With friends like you Beigbeder certainly doesn't need any more enemies.

Burnplant, what is with your obsession with unicorn books? Freudian issues?

I have not read the book. But I have read enough excerpts to know that the story is an appalling view of what happened in the Windows of the World restaurant on 9/11.

So to recap:

a) You have not read the book.

b) We can extrapolate from your presence here you were most likely not in Windows of the World on September 11, 2001.

Yet you still feel qualified to make a judgement on a book you haven't read about an event that can only be described in fiction.

Typical moronic brownshirt fuck.

"Typical moronic brownshirt fuck."

Goebbels would have approved of your polemical style.

Okay, so maybe you don't read Unicorn books, but you have to admit that your posts don't lead me to any other conclusion; according to you guys, a 9/11 book should read like this:

After getting his orange juice from the waiter, Todd looks up into the clear, blue American sky and sees an airplane headed straight for the WTC restaurant. He looks at his heterosexual, missionary position-loving companion Julie, and says, "Damn, I think we're about to die...but I have no regrets. I just hope all the orphans that I've helped will grow up to be as strong and proud as I am. Bring it on big Jet Airliner, Let's roll!" Julie, clasping Todd's hand, whispers in his ear, "Don't worry, Todd, we'll be dead, but at least the President will be around to make sure that our charred corpses are exploited for political gain in New York City in 2004...and then maybe, just maybe, those democrats will learn what it means...to...be..a...unicorn".

I think Beigbeder's next book should be about the Holocaust and set in Bergen-Belsen. And rather than emphasize the barbarity of Nazism, he should instead reduce the victims of the Holocaust to stereotypes he picked up from Nazi propaganda films. Because of course, not all of the victims in Belsen were sweet little Anne Franks; there were undoubtedly greedy and lecherous shylocks killed in the concentration camps. Because, like, they weren't all saints. Hello, this is called realism people. Duh.