2 April 2014

Yann Moix: Partouz (2004)

For the first time in a long time, I was unable to finish a book: that is indicative of the level of boredom to which I felt subjected by Yann Moix's Partouz.

In the literary magazine Le Matricule des anges no. 57 (October 2004), Ludovic Bablon gives a scathing review of this novel that he claims isn't a novel. For a French periodical to state such a thing seems very strong to me, as the expression 'roman' (the equivalent to our word 'novel') is generally accepted in France to cover a number of written works that in Britain would just not come under that term: plainly autobiographical works, short stories bundled together by a common theme, novellas, collections of ramblings notes, etc. So what is it about this book?

Bablon clearly intended a strong criticism. Partouz – which gives the Arabic transliteration of 'partouze', a word with the same meaning in both French and English – is divided into four parts, although by the time I reached halfway I'd not got through the second part but had read just over 200 pages. The central premise of the first part – which in large part concerns the Twin Towers terrorist Mohammed Atta – is that Atta became a terrorist out of sexual frustration, and the narrator invents Pamela Wiltshire, a girl he says Atta was lusting after. The narrator is experiencing his first partouze and feels somewhat uncomfortable, although he gives vivid descriptions of the many sights he sees: yes, it's something of a porn novel.

The second section is called 'Masturbator' and painfully reconstructs the history of the narrator's masturbatory activities and fantasies, and after so many pages I just gave up. I thoroughly enjoyed Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint and Brian Aldiss's Hand-Reared Boy – both books having wanking as their main subject – but Partouz? Oh no. The critic who wrote 'Moi, Moi, Moi!' of him (I forget the name) seems spot on.

The reason I'd started this book was as a kind of preparation for Moix's Naissance , which won the prix Renaudot last year for this 1200-page door-stopper (brique in French), and I was testing the water. And it just seems to be all about Moix's birth, with many digressions. Yeah: Moi(x), Moi(x), Moi(x).

However, Frédéric Beigbeder's infuriating yet fascinating Premier bilan après l'apocalypse (2011), which I reviewed earlier and which lists his favourite 100 books, includes Moix's Podium (2002) at number 79, and tells me something I didn't know: Partouz is Moix's second volume of his second trilogy, which begins with Podium and ends with Panthéon (2006). Beigbeder says Podium is about 'fame, the new opium of the people', and that sounds interesting. Plus, his Jubilations vers le ciel (1996) won the prix Goncourt for first novel. I don't give up easily, so I'll no doubt get back to Moix when the occasion presents itself.

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