A bit too intoxicated to cycle home safely in the uncharacteristically warm night, from the lively midtown, through the abandoned central business district, enjoying the light-blue sunless sky that fades into orange towards the northwestern horizon. It was from a long anticipated book club meeting, discussing a book that hit a nerve for all of us. Les Choses, published in mid 60’s France, a deconstruction of the lifestyle of the entitled middle class kids brought up in the security of the post war boom. People that want everything without ever working for it (full time), who aim for refinement but aren’t true intellectuals, never content with the things they have but not bothering to fully dedicate themselves to rat race, seeing themselves as rising above it.
There were uncomfortable parallels in our own consumption of vintage, rare and authentic objects (the name of the book in English is The Objects) and occasional splurges in expensive clothes, like my tweed jacket. Surrounding ourselves with books and records (vinyl of course) and posters. We think it’s a rejection of the shallow consumerist culture of the suburban bourgeoisie but it’s just a materialism of a different sort. You’d have expected a more old fashioned outlook in a 50 year old book but it’s really prescient, the educated leftist members of my generation here in Iceland can see themselves more clearly in it than if it were an unbridled orgy of the consumerist excesses of mainstream society or an older fashioned book with unfamiliar gender roles and traditions. Even the wish for a simpler life in the country that my brother in law often professes is embarrassingly paralleled in the book as a year working in Tunis.
At the end of the last meeting we handed out themes for analysis, but they turned out to be almost redundant. There was little scope for queer or feminist readings, the whole narrative describes heterosexual couples in the third person never even bothering to separate them as individuals. It’s ironic viewpoint in the brief expedition to Tunis already exposes the distance of their experience from the plight of the newly independent natives. I have it on good authority that it would be best described as a post-structuralist novel. But there were also Marxists themes, the alienation of consumerism first and foremost, with it’s fetishistic focus on the objects that define the couple’s life. The biggest complaint of those of us who’s outlook was so mercilessly deconstructed by the narrator was that the contempt (probably self-criticism to a degree) shone through, that he ignores the possibility of contentment. I guess that it was never an objective of the book to offer solutions, only to hold the lives of this new generations to a critical lens.