To the End of the World - Blaise Cendrars
Firstly, I don't think you can actually call this a review. You'll see what I mean as you read on. Okay, this is a bugle call, a rallying of the troops, a call to arms for the cause of one man if you will. It couldn't be construed as anything else and, quite frankly, I wouldn't want it to be. So I'll begin: There's something refreshingly different about reading Blaise Cendrars, but to be honest I haven't quite worked out just what it is yet - and the simple fact that I never will makes it all the more appealing. But how did I ever find him in the first place? Maybe it had something to do with Henry Miller once calling Cendrars "...the most contemporary of contemporaries". I just had to seek him out and was instantly hooked (found a bedraggled 'Collected Works' in a second-hand bookshop). I don't know, there's just something utterly unique between the pages of a book written by Blaise Cendrars. To the End of the World is definitely bawdy and lends itself to the surreal, a chaotic mish-mash, a twirling, spiraling fiasco, a marvellous work of imagination that reveals itself before a seedy 1940's Parisian backdrop. This is the Paris Henry Miller longed to find, but somehow couldn't. But, please allow me the indulgence, To the End of the World is much more than the work of pure invention, it is Cendrars' Roman-a-clef. In it is hidden the clues to his crazy, nomadic, adventurous life. The women, the prostitutes, the vagabonds, the urchins, the aristocrats, the deserters, the thieves and pimps. They all pay a short, shuddering visit. The pages reek of lost, desperate dreams, the underbelly of society, the rancid off-cuts left to the dogs - a sour montage of ego and vanity left to rot in the gutter, kicked about in the wind and ultimately snubbed by any passing stranger that cares to look down his/her nose. To the End of the World is a special book indeed. We follow the daily trivialities of Therese, a septuagenarian actress long gone to seed, clinging on to an era long vanished, eking out a living sponging off various men and barfly's alike and opening her legs at any given opportunity. From the outset Therese is happy dedicating herself to a young, violent deserter from the Foreign Legion. In these achingly sad trysts we see Therese acting out her lost dreams, trying to regain something she never really had in the first place, before she is suddenly held for questioning over the murder of a local barman. And here the hapless, disparate Therese begins her final, appalling decent into oblivion. And Blaise Cendrars is there to capture every minute detail. Cendrars' writing is colourful, snappy, allegorical and terse - he plays with the image, polishing it until gleaming and then delightfully plunges it into the darkening squalid, gloopy quagmire with aplomb and glee. As it has been said before, there really isn't anything quite like reading Blaise Cendrars. To the End of the World is an often funny, manic, yet bleak tale of excessive vanity, written by one of Europe's lost avant garde imaginations. It can only be a good thing that his words are back with us again.
LEE ROURKE © 2004.
STAR RATING: ***** Excellent **** Very Good *** Average ** Poor * Abysmal