2 November 2021

René Fallet: Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé (1975)

Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé is a celebration of a kind of non-intellectual anarchism: it (exaggeratedly) delights in the simple pleasures of life, the world of the impecunious work-shy rather than the social aspirant, the frequenters of the old-fashioned corner café which has staunchly resisted the get-rich-quick mentality of modernising and charging sky-high prices, the place where belote and the dice game 421 are played, where people can spend hours talking to fellow customers, cementing long friendships rather than popping in silently to have a swift drink or meal. But it's also a book that couldn't be written today, even as a novel of recent history, and this is because what was once acceptable – mild misogyny and casual rascism seen as jokes – belong to the past. There are four main characters.

Camadule lives opposite Le Café des Pauvres, where he spends much of his time, and makes a meagre living as a second-hand dealer. He sees work as an evil and would rather drink or fish (one of Fallet's own main interests).

Poulenc meets Camadule when the latter is fishing. He is in his early twenties, lives with his mother – a prostitute specialising in flagellation – and is a dog-sitter. On their first encounter Poulenc has ten dogs he's been paid to walk, and as he begins a conversation Camadule speaks of his hatred for work and encourages Poulenc to go with him to the café, leaving the dogs in his shed and quickly drawing the much younger man into his little world.

'Captain' Beaujol is another frequenter of the café. He fought in Vietnam and Algeria, which is at least what he says, although he wasn't a captain and he lives in dread that one day an old soldier from one of his regiments will enter and expose him as the coward he was, relegated to supply depots. He's a great drinker (even thought by some to be on the alcoholic side), and his home 'fouette un chouilla' ('stinks a tad': Fallet liberally peppers this novel with wonderful slang).

Finally, there's Debedeux, who is a high-flying business executive in aeronautics, and was once a pupil in the same neighbourhood school as Captain Beaujol. Le Captain meets him by chance one day and invites him to Le Café des Pauvres, to which Debedeux pays little attention initially. But later that day, sick of both his wife and his secretary mistress, he goes to the café almost in despair. There he's reminded of his early days as a working-class kid and his father taking him to a similar place, where he gave him grenadine. The transition takes some time, but eventually he's persuaded to go sick with a bad back, which of course can't be proved: he's now one of the work-shy crew.

The second half of the book isn't as well executed as the first: the accepted gang-banging of the disabled Prunelle (who becomes 'normal' at the end), and trip to Lozère where Conception (an ex-back-street abortionist!) finds love again, not to mention the rascist Captain due to marry a Muslim, are way too unbelievable. Which is a pity, as the first part is so promising: the second just seems rushed.

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