Today’s topic is Saint Glinglin by Raymond Queneau.
A representative of a weird genre, Saint Glinglin exploits human faults, bad habits, tradition versus modernity, all in a humorous way. The action takes place around the Home Town, which is a fictional city, full of strange people and amusing habits. Different from the rest of the country, Home Town is a place where it never rains, people only drink bad quality wine, and take full joy in breaking thousands of plates, cups and other dishes in yearly based celebration. They are highly unwilling to accept any change from other people, and look towards strangers with amusement. They treat strangers very good but they do not want to break any of their strange habits, nor explain or give any reason for their behavior.
Main characters are from the Nabonide family. Pierre is sent to another town to learn their language, in order to bring new information and eventually become a translator for the people in Home Town. Not surprisingly, he finds himself intrigued by totally different things and comes home with a thrilling discovery of deep water fish. This subject fascinates him, but the people in Home Town only mock him because deep fish can’t be eaten. Pierre is an idealist, he finds sufficiency in spiritual things, like the life of the fish, not in simple things like money or food. Gossip is a very important theme, as all things spread epidemically from every town folk to another. People cannot understand Pierre, not even his father who wants to disinherit him. Pierre’s brother, Jean , has a different attitude and prefers solitude. He spends years on the lonely mountains near Home Town, living in nature and away from any problems in Home Town. The third brother Paul becomes infatuated with a cinema star, as the Home Town starts to adopt new things from the outside world. Their sister Helene is the model of the inadapted, a creature that is not considered entirely sane by the other people in town. She spends a lot of time locked in a basement studying insects.
The role of mayor is another important part in the story, as it’s taken by all Nabonide males, starting with their father and taking turns by both Pierre and Paul. The mayor is a respected role, but not all people accept the decisions the mayor takes. Pierre wants to bring the change and when he becomes mayor, brings a never stopping rain across Home Town, and abolishes the dish breaking frenzy festival on Saint Glinglin.
Ridiculous is exploited by the author at every point in the book. He ridiculizes Pierre for being a non stopping dreamer, Nabonide the father who turns into a statue and is exhibited in the town central plaza, he ridiculizes the town folk’s addiction to poor wine, also the easiness of the town women, who take turns in lifting their skirts on a play swing, or letting themselves touched by any interesting new male in town. Food doesn’t get forgotten, their strange dish becomes a very amusing part as it’s made of all possible dishes but still very highly praised by the town folk.
Overall, Queneau laughs at a closed city , full of bad or funny habits, reluctant to change, using a very interesting language and playing with words in an unique style. We could make a parallel of his own time, where changes started inflicting on people in the first half of 20th century, and were not easily accepted by anyone.