25 January 2013

Frédéric Beigbeder: 99 Francs (2000)

The importance of 99 Francs (which was the original price of the book, but now the title is the same as its price in euros, and of course it changes accordingly in translations) is in its satire. Octave is a 'child of the millennium': he's in advertising, or 'novelty terrorism' as he terms it, and he's the central character in this novel, which begins as a professional suicide note so he can get the sack ('I don't have the balls to resign') and claim unemployment insurance. He hates his life and hates himself.

Octave is overpaid and lives in a world where coke snorting is the norm, and when you ditch your chick you go to a high-class hooker – everyone and everything can be bought, we are all prostitutes: 'Don't look at the straw in your brother's nostril but the beam in your own pants':

'I'm in advertising: oh yeah, I pollute the universe. I'm the guy who sells you shit. Who makes you dream of things you'll never have. Sky always blue, babes never ugly, perfect happiness, makeover by PhotoShop. [...] I'm three fashions in front, and I'll always make sure you're frustrated. [...] In my profession no one wants you to be happy, because happy people don't consume.'

His firm has a saying: 'Don't treat people like twats, but don't forget that they are twats.' The logos have replaced the Logos. And it's taken 2000 years to get there. To emphasize his point, Beigbeder even introduces mock adverts between the sections of the book, (which are each narrated in different personal pronouns). Example: three Jamaicans are lying beneath a coconut palm after smoking enormous spliffs: smashed out of their skulls. A huge black woman tells them to get back to work. They don't move. She screams at them to get back to work. They don't move. In desperation she waves a tub of Danette chocolate cream dessert at them, and they spring awake singing Bob Marley's 'Get Up Stand Up', dancing around the beach 'tasting the product'.

I started out wanting to hate this book, expecting general emptiness, style triumphing over substance, verbal fireworks without meaning, one joke lasting the whole 282 pages, but it's hard to deny the central premise: advertising is the new terrorism, and consuming is the new colonialism, the new God.

However, it is much too long for what it's trying to say, the excursions to Senegal, Miami and Cannes are tedious, and the senseless murder and the embezzlement sub-plot (ending on Ghost Island) merely add to the distractions rather than enhance the anti-advertising message.

Some of the internet jokes are distinctly unfunny too:

'Allez, e-ciao.
– bye-bye.com!'

Nevertheless this is clever stuff, and Beigbeder can also be very funny, although his writing is far too unruly for its own good.

Below are links to other Beigbeder book reviews I wrote:
Frédéric Beigbeder: Mémoires d'un Jeune Homme Dérangé

Frédéric Beigbeder: Premier bilan après l'apocalypse
Frédéric Beigbeder: Un roman français
Frédéric Beigbeder: L'Amour dure trois ans | Love Lasts Three Years
Frédéric Beigbeder: Vacances dans le coma

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