Page 45 Review by Stephen
A grand farce from the French master which hasn't aged one jot since it first appeared thirty years ago.
It puts me in mind of Evelyn Waugh's more outrageous works like Black Mischief, with naïfs being caught helplessly in a pincer movement of regal egos and state machinations, here in the form of a French President staring electoral disaster in the face and forging an insane plan for self-preservation that will ultimately prove more successful than anyone dared to hope.
Far from the grotesqueries of government, meanwhile, we find young Arthur There who's been driven up the wall by the loss of his family's ancestral land, his last remaining refuge being said walls that divide his old properties and their inhabitants. Throughout the days of wind, rain and snow, he's summoned across this interconnected raised maze by bells to extract meagre tolls for opening the gates whilst dancing over obstacles like fallen trees and avoiding the dogs below. It's these coins that he pours into the bottomless dustbins of his lawyer, who has the art of procrastination and prevarication down to perfection whilst holding out just enough hope of Arthur's obsession: the legal reclamation of his land. But Arthur's been alone too long. Riddled with persecution complexes, he overthinks everything. And where exactly is his Mummy to whom he telephones daily reports of his progress?
It's all quite absurd, from Arthur's diminutive domicile (an elegant stone hut perched precariously on the wall that can't measure more than 3 feet by 6 and its exterior stove for frying morning eggs) to his loquacious exchanges over the edge of the lake with the visiting grocer-sailor, and the truly bizarre Julie Maillard, daughter of one of the denizens whose legs are splayed in a sexual association of rain and urination, and who offers herself up to Arthur in a manner he finds mind-frazzling. Never less than innocent, she's still managed to get around, which brings us back to Paris...
Thanks to more than a little madness the proceedings are presented on the page with a flourish of surrealism matched by the actions of the protagonists. The acrobatics (visual and verbal) are a joy while the weather is magnificent, though I do concede that, for some, it may go on a bit! Here's a typical pronouncement from the floating grocer which kicks off with four words that are irrefutable:
"Customers are sacred creatures, and fragile too.... One little misstep, and the days of eating and drinking are over! And then the grocer takes it on the chin! You see, everything is connected, Mister There, everything is connected. And because everything is connected, one should avoid ever touching anything... And to avoid touching anything one should avoid ever saying anything: Speech is harmful!
"Now, I know I just said "speech is harmful," but on the other hand, silence isn't much better. That way lie boredom, suspicion, gangrene. Eventually it eats away at you, from the ground up."
That's not going to do Arthur's paranoia any good.