About the Book
What does the man who has everything – fame, fortune, a new love, and a new baby – want for his fiftieth birthday? The answer is simple: eternal life.
Determined to shake off the first intimations of his approaching demise, Frédéric tries every possible procedure to ward off death, examining both legal and illegal research into techniques that could lead to the imminent replacement of man with a post-human species. Accompanied by his ten-year-old daughter and her robot friend, Frédéric criss-crosses the globe to meet the world’s foremost researchers on human longevity, who – from cell rejuvenation and telomere lengthening to 3D-printed organs and digitally stored DNA – reveal their latest discoveries.
With his blend of deadpan humour and clear-eyed perception, Beigbeder has penned a brutal and brilliant exposé of the enduring issue of our own mortality.
Format: Paperback (304 pages) Publisher: World Editions
Publication date: 16 April 2020 Genre: Contemporary Fiction
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For a fair bit of this book I found myself trying to work out whether it was fiction or non-fiction. I came to the conclusion that it’s a mixture of both. Many of the people Frédéric meets do exist in real life (thank you, Google) and hold the positions in the scientific and commercial institutions mentioned. Without a lot of research, I’m unable to say how much of what they tell him about their discoveries and how they might be used is accurate, but I’m betting most of it is. That’s a bit scary in some cases.
This is my first book by the author but, reading up on him, I learned that there is a strong autobiographical element to his work. For instance, in the book, the narrator is married to his second wife and has two daughter, as does the author (although the names of his wife and daughters have been changed). I’m unsure if he shares with the narrator a seeming preoccupation with women’s breasts.
There are some great one-liners such as the author’s observation about the current obsession with selfies that, “Modern man is a collection of 75 trillion cells all striving to become pixels.” In fact, the subject of selfies is a bit of a running joke. There are also quirky touches such as tables entitled Advantages and Disadvantages Of Death, Some Differences Between A Thirtysomething Single Guy And A Fiftysomething Father (‘Goes clubbing in Ibiza vs. Buys a holiday home in the Basque Country’) and Key Differences Between Human And Robot (‘Cogito ergo sum vs. Cogito ergo sum coniuncta ad Wi-Fi’).
Great fun is had with Pepper the Japanese robot who accompanies Frédéric and his daughter, Romy, on their travels to interview scientists and doctors in his quest for the secret of immortality. There are some scenes in a spa resort they visit that are laugh out loud funny.
Encompassing topics as varied as genome sequencing, psychoanalysis, cell renewal, transgenic foods and blood transfusions, the book addresses serious issues as well and contains some sobering statistics, although true to the author’s style these are delivered with humour. ‘Life is a hecatomb. A mass murder that slaughters 59 million people a year. 1.9 deaths per second. 158,857 deaths a day. Twenty people have died around the world since the beginning of this paragraph – more if you’re a slow reader.’ [I had to look up hecatomb as well. It means the sacrifice or slaughter of many victims.]
To begin with, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book but in fact I found it fascinating, albeit a little chilling at times, especially the chapter in which the author sets out a distinctly dystopian view of the future. Frédéric’s wife, Leonore, a trained scientist, provides a counterbalance to her husband’s belief in the benefits of immortality. She argues, “A life without end would be a life without purpose” and later, tiring (and who can blame her) of his incessant search for the secret of defeating death, describes it as “a fantasy designed to humour infantile, ignorant, narcissistic megalomaniacs who can’t bring themselves to face the inevitable.”
As well as being a very funny book, the narrator’s relationship with his elder daughter is rather touching and the end of the book is surprisingly moving. Does Frédéric find what he’s searching for? As one character tells him, “Perhaps if you publish it the ending will change. You know better than anyone that literature can conquer time.” Do you see what he did there?
I can’t end this review without commending the translator for his skill in reproducing the author’s self-mocking style and communicating with clarity such complex scientific information. If I wasn’t able to grasp quite all of it, that’s definitely my failing not his.
I received an advance review copy courtesy of World Editions.
In three words: Playful, thought-provoking, satirical
About the Author
Frédéric Beigbeder is a French journalist and critic, and is responsible for the literary section of Le Figaro Magazine. Also a bestselling author, his novel 99 Francs both got him fired from his advertising job and established him as a controversial force within French literature. For his other novels, he has been awarded various prizes including the 2003 Prix Interallié and the 2009 Prix Renaudot, and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2005 for his novel Windows on the World. He is a regular guest on French national morning radio, and a frequent contributor to El País Icon (Spain), Interview (Germany), and Esquire (Russia).
About the Translator
Frank Wynne is a literary translator and writer. Born in Ireland, he moved to France in 1984 where he discovered a passion for language. He began translating literature in the late 1990s, and in 2001 decided to devote himself to this full time. He has translated works by Michel Houellebecq, Frédéric Beigbeder, Ahmadou Kourouma, Boualem Sansal, Claude Lanzmann, Tómas Eloy Martínez, and Almudena Grandes. His work has earned him a number of awards, including the Scott Moncrieff Prize and the Premio Valle Inclán. Most recently, his translation of Vernon Subutex by Virginie Despentes was shortlisted for the Man Booker International 2018.