Bove's tale of a World War I veteran living in postwar Paris, searching for friendship and warmth, is an ironic, entertaining masterpiece by one of France's favorite authors.
My Friends is Emmanuel Bove’s first and most famous book, and it begins simply, though unusually, enough: “When I wake up, my mouth is open. My teeth are furry: it would be better to brush them in the evening, but I am never brave enough.” Victor Baton is speaking, and he is a classic little man, of no talent or distinction or importance and with no illusions that he has any of those things, either; in fact, if he is exceptional, it is that life’s most basic transactions seem to confound him more than they do the rest of us. All Victor wants is to be loved, all he wants is a friend, and as he strays through the streets of Paris in search of love or friendship or some fleeting connection, we laugh both at Victor’s meekness and at his odd pride, but we feel with him, too. Victor is after all a kind of everyman, the indomitable knight of human fragility. And, in spite of everything, he, or at least his creator, is some kind of genius, investing the back streets and rented rooms of the city and the unsorted moments of daily life with a weird and unforgettable clarity.
This wistful, sad little French novel from the 1920s is here translated into English for the first time. Bove, who died in 1945, has regularly been admired by other writers but never by a wide audience. His melancholy clown, Baton, is a damaged veteran of the Great War, living from hand to mouth in the dank rooming houses, filthy soup kitchens, grubby cafes and drab streets of the Paris no tourist knows. He longs only for a friend whom he can love, and who will love him; but in a sequence of accidental encountersgenerally with gross, coarse, unfeeling peoplehis life is briefly jarred but never significantly altered. A man of exquisite sensibilities, hoping that one day, against all odds, something splendid will happen, Baton finds the doors remain shut against him. If Marcel Marceau's eternally yearning little man could remove his mask and find a voice, he might look and sound like this one.