The Age of Reason (Penguin Modern Classics)

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The Age of Reason (Penguin Modern Classics)

The Age of Reason (Penguin Modern Classics)

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In October, she was well up in botany, and the examiner was quite satisfied: and then she suddenly saw herself opposite a bald chap who was talking about coelenterata [a biology term I don’t fully understand]. Beyond that, however, the various characters all have their own little issues to deal with -- which includes the tragi-comic, as, for example, Boris wakes up to find Lola dead in bed with him (which might not sound very comical, but proves to be, in the end). Daniel walked up to the mirror and inspected his dark and comely countenance, and thought: ‘All the same, it would be worth a packet if he were forced to marry Marcelle. They seem intent on making their way in life, but a mixture of laziness, eccentricity, and a reliance on their affability and good looks means they seem destined to have everything handled for them.

Peeved, Ivich’s strange mind kicks into action—she begins hacking and slashing at her left hand, spilling blood onto their table.It immediately becomes apparent Daniel, who is gay, is a duplicitous sort who seems set on playing with his victims for the hell of it.

The Age of Reason only concerns a handful of days, I should point out, during which time personal freedom is the main theme established. However, she and, indeed, her brother are kept in this circle of grownups seemingly as Delarue, Boris’ much older girlfriend (a local Parisian singer) Lola, and various others view them as a reminder of how they were a decade earlier.I could talk about the plot, but the plot doesn’t matter, it’s the subtext that does – this nagging regret of a life not lived; a life that has amounted to nothing because of a protagonist who bases every life decision on excessive forethought, a habit that steers him away from making any decision on a whim. He’s introduced in chapter 7 and it’s quickly established he’s a Machiavellian sort blessed with exceptional good looks. Fat unhappy Marcelle – trapped by illness in her pink bedroom, stifled by the mother she shares her apartment with – is the central symbol of the squalid reality of the physical body, of nausea at its revolting fecundity, a claustrophobic image of unhappiness.

As you can see there’s a fair bit of toing and froing among this cast of deadbeats and losers, but the ‘plot’ is mostly beside the point. He likes the way her face and body are wrinkled, he likes her ‘experience’, whereas she rather more straightforwardly likes having a young lover – it makes her feel young; she tells Mathieu that Boris is her ‘last chance’. The absolute determination of all the characters to be as miserable as possible eventually becomes quite funny.Boris had promptly understood: the individual’s duty is to do what he wants to do, to think whatever he likes, to be accountable to no one but himself, to challenege every idea and every person. This is opposed to the embarrassing situation he finds himself at the start of the story; his initial foray into securing an abortion ends in dismal humiliation. The Marcelle situation resolves itself in a manner that largely absolves Mathieu from any sort of responsibility (though that resolution comes with one big surprise, as one of the characters makes another revelation that upends things quite a bit, too -- and suggests that maybe Marcelle's best interests are not best served by this particular outcome). However, the beauty here is you don’t have to be interested in any of that lot to enjoy the book, which plays out with serious verve and imagination thanks largely to the exceptional group of characters Sartre depicts. All the characters are disgusted with their lovers, with sex, with Paris, with life, but most of all with themselves.

With her youth and good looks, she permeates much of the novel with a sense of loss—the ageing characters accept their 20s are gone, with the result being they seem to view Ivich as fragile and precious due to her youthful vulnerability. It’s also my favourite from the trilogy—whilst the Reprieve and Iron in the Soul are profound and moving, there’s a certain unmatchable edge to Age of Reason which is delivered through its detailed analysis of its lead characters. Various well-bred moralities had already discreetly offered him their services: disillusioned epicureanism, smiling tolerance, resignation, common sense, stoicism - all the aids whereby a man may savor, minute by minute, like a connoisseur, the failure of a life. An idle, unresponsive fellow, rather chimerical, but ultimately quite sensible, who has dexterously constructed an undistinguished but solid happiness upon a basis of inertia, and justified himself from time to time on the highest moral grounds.The Age of Reason is concerned with Sartre's conception of freedom as the ultimate aim of human existence. If the book does not rise to the stature of a great, or even a very good, novel, it at least does not try to show a great panorama of society, and fail.

  • Fruugo ID: 258392218-563234582
  • EAN: 764486781913
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