'Que serais-je devenu si je n'avais pas rencontré Margot à vingt-trois ans?'
'What would have become of me if I hadn't met Margot when I was twenty-three?'
So reads the back cover of this edition of Éric Reinhardt's Cendrillon (lit. 'Cinderella'). On page 308, the frequent first-person narrator (who calls himself Éric Reinhardt) speaks about his 'synthético-théoriques' avatars Laurent Dahl, Thierry Trockel and Patrick Neftel, whose stories are all related in the third person, sandwiched between the narratives of 'Éric Reinhardt'.
I read many reviews by non-professional critics of Cendrillon, and wasn't at all surprised to find that a number of people only read so much of this whopping 568-page pavé that has sections but no paragraphs, whose dialogues run on continuously in italics, and whose speakers are introduced by a long dash. Some readers suggest that you can skip whole chunks without loosing the thread. Others say that the author has an ego the size of the book, and that he imagines himself as an heir to James Joyce.
Well, this is no easy-to-read book, and pages and pages of unbroken text – particularly when the subject is hedge funds (and there's a lot of that) – are somewhat (let's be polite) daunting, but I kept reading, I didn't throw the book at the wall. In parts I was reminded of a difficult Jonathan Franzen, and I even thought that perhaps this is more like Franzen should write – pushing the post-modernist boat, experimenting more.
This book is no modern inferior version of Finnegans Wake Joyce, not even Ulysses Joyce: it's much more accessibly experimental than that. There are some really funny episodes here, such as Laurel's father's boss's wife puking on the entrance hall carpet, or a pubescent Laurel himself trying to clean up his diarrhoea in his would-be girlfriend's family home toilet, or even an increasingly crazy Patrick Neftel smashing his sister's bridegroom's goofy teeth in.
But this is in some respects a dark book, a book of modern life where there are super-winners and super-losers, where rampant capitalism is a tremendously destructive force, where the globalisation card trumps all.
We have 'Éric Reinhardt', family man writing and researching mainly (it seems) at Le Nemours café, Place Colette, Paris; then we follow the adventures of Laurel and his many 'dolls' (million dollars); and we see his unfortunate father morph into Patrick's father, who kills himself by stabbing a fork into his throat at the dinner table and thus also ruins the life of his son, making him not only unemployable but also insane.
Often, what goes up must come down and Laurel has to flee from hedge fund hell. Patrick, a modern Don Quixote seen as a terrorist, drives off to tilt at windmills created by television rather than books. And Thierry Trockel has a small part in this too: his brain is turned by the kind of porn sites where you get to meet real people with warts and all. Welcome to twentieth-first-century reality.