23 August 2016

Roger Vailland: 325.000 francs (1955)

325.000 francs is Roger Vailland's second novel, and in a sense is a very working-class one, although Vailland himself wasn't a member of the working class. In very few books is the nature of working-class labour described, although here it is repeated like a litany. What strikes me – hard – about this book is that it is written by someone who is very concerned about the conditions of work in Oyonnax (in the novel called Bionnas), with its important plastics industry and the many injuries to workers.

For the communist Roger Vailland, then, is this a novel of political commitment? Hardly. The capitalist Jules Morel, owner of the firm Plastoform and Cité Morel, isn't the evil capitalist of left-wing sterotypes. But then nor is Bernard Busard (ah, more bird imagery as in Les mauvais Coups) anything like a working-class hero: under the thumb of his artificially-looking 'girlfriend' Marie-Jeanne – with whom he hasn't yet even had sex after eighteen months, and for whom the sexy and far more natural Juliette Doucet would be a far better match – Bernard slaves away to shape a capitalistically-envisaged future for the two of them.

Bernard sees this future as working in a snack-bar off the N7, and fantasises about running a whole series of snack-bars from Paris to Nice, each given a number relating to the number of miles covered from Paris. But to acquire the first one he needs 700,000 francs, of which he had to provide 325,000 of them. This he has to do by working extra hours (in tandem with Le Bressan, who is working for his own interests: or so it initially appears).

Vailland was inspired by seeing someone with an artificial hand in Oyonnax, the hand which holds the cards of the Tarot card game which he plays all day. Bernard becomes that person, who because handicapped is unsuited to running the N7 snack-bar and so runs a café in the town with his wife Marie-Jeanne. Until he returns to the plastics factory, that is.

Many of the themes in Les mauvais Coups are here, notably jealousy, although in this book it is Bernard's almost insane jealousy of Marie-Jeanne that impotently conquers. An important work, I think, but one which must certainly be viewed in the context of Vailland's total of nine novels, of which I've so far only read three.

My other Roger Vailland posts:

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Roger Vailland: La Loi
Roger Vailland: Les mauvais Coups

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