Foam of the Daze (L'Ecume des jours)
by Boris Vian (1920-1959)
Library of Congress Number 2001089198
The definition of Boris Vian: engineer, inventor, chronicler of jazz, trumpet player, poet and novelist, creator of spectacles, lyric writer and singer, and of course pataphysician.
TamTam Books is very proud to announce the upcoming publication of Boris Vian's masterpiece L'Ecume des jours. We are bringing out a new translation by Brian Harper with the full approval of the Vian estate. The English title is Foam of the Daze.
The translation made by Brian Harper takes into account the critical edition of Boris Vian's L'Ecume des jours edited with additional in depth footnotes by Gilbert Pestureau and Michel Rybalka published in France 1994.
L'Ecume des jours (Foam of the Daze) is a jazz fueled Science Fiction story that is both romantic and nihilistic! Vian's novel is an assortment of bittersweet romance, absurdity and the frailty of life. Foam of the Daze is a nimble-fingered masterpiece that is both witty and incredibly moving. It is a story of a wealthy young man Colin and the love of his life Chloe, who develops a water lily in her lung.
The supporting cast includes Chick, an obsessive collector of noted philosopher Jean-Sol Partre's books and stained pants, and Nicolas who is a combination of P.G. Wodehouse's fictional butler Jeeves and the Green Hornet's Kato. The soul of the book is about the nature of life disappearing and loving things intensely as if one was making love on a live grenade!
"(Vian) has been canonized by a whole generation of revolutionary young people...this fantasy of perishing purity is an affirmation of youth and innocence, laced with the biting humor of Jacques Prévert and Ionesco."
"The most heartbreakingly poignant modern love story ever written."
"For the last thirty years L'Ecume des jours has been the author's best-known and most widely-discussed work: blending as it does the most light-hearted and playful fantasy with a sense of doom and tragedy that many readers across a wide range of ages and cultural backgrounds have found irresistibly moving, it is a novel that has paradox at its heart."
David Meakin (quoted from his study L'Ecume des jours, published by the University of Glasgow)
"When I first read Boris Vian, almost forty years ago, his work was a
revelation to me. It remains so every time I return to it -- as, now, in
this new, hip, fluid translation by Brian Harper."
"L'Ecume des jours is full of good things - from farcical religious rites to the obsessions of a bibliophile which turn to fetishism and wreck his life. The set pieces are marvelous, rumbustious, and macabre. This is a tragic love story, a morbid and even a pathological farce. It is a book of failures and closures, and wonderfully destructive."
Adrian Searle (From the British edition of L'Ecume des jours)
"In Paris in the 1950s Boris Vian was everything - poet, fiction writer, singer, subversive, actor, musician, and jazz critic. He was my friend and I admired him passionately for his eclecticism, devastating irony, and taste for provocation".
"I can't think of another writer who can move me as surreptitiously as Vian does"
Foam of the Daze is a novel like no other, a sexy, innocent, smart and sweet cartoon of a world which then begins, little by little, to bleed real blood until, in the end, the blood turns out to be our own. I read it nearly thirty years ago in its previous incarnation as Mood Indigo and I loved it then; it's still one of my favorite books in the whole world.
Boris Vian, who himself had suffered in his childhood from a pulmonary disease wrote the history of Chloe, who dies because a water lily invades her lungs. And then there is Colin, her lover and Nicolas, the brilliant inventor of the "pianocktail ". Tender and delicate history of love.
Who wouldn't want to immerse themselves in THE greatest love story? With pages that drip with passion, cries, laughter, tears and so forth. Among the more sober, but magnificent just the same, I recommend L'Ecume des jours by Boris Vian. It begins like a fairy tale but don't panic, you will see that it won't take long to become something else indeed... First there is the young, rich and carefree Colin. He, above all, "longs to be in love". One immediately identifies with this fragile anti-hero yearning for love. The most important thing for him is his small circle of friends: Chick, Alise, Nicolas, Isis ...and Chloe. During a party of close friends, he falls madly in love with her. Everything is great. Colin and Chloe get married and the world belongs to them. But then this beautiful fury of life is broken clean. Chloe becomes sick with a poetic disease (even though Boris Vian doesn't want it). A water lily grows in the lungs of the beauty and pushes out all the oxygen. Colin becomes responsible and works but Chloe wilts away incurably. On their side, Chick and Alise had everything to be happy... if Chick didn't have the filthy mania of bankrupting himself by buying the works and clothes of a certain Jean Sol Partre, (a little dig from Vian to the famous existentialist of Saint-Germain-des-Près). This "partrophagy" pushes Alise to kill Partre. Only Nicolas and Isis escape a tragic destiny and accompany their friends to the end. The character's purity and carefree attitude... it's superb!
Catherine Combet (Terminale)
A kind of jazzy, cheerful, sexy, sci-fi mid-20th century Huysmans. Check
it out. There is just no place like France.
Boris Vian writes like a dapper, dilettantish dandy, which is appropriate because that's what he was. His 1947 novel, newly translated by Brian Harper as "Foam of the Daze" (earlier incarnations include "Mood Indigo" and "Froth on the Daydream"), perfectly reflects this breezy social agenda of elegant aperitifs, whimsical obsessions, and love, love, love. But Vian's very much a descendent of his dour and decadent French forefathers, learning from the life of leisure that beauty reaps the blood of solitude and pretty girls do, in fact, make graves, so even the book's blithest banter betrays an echo of the memento mori that is to come. And yet, for all its subtle sadness, "Foam" is fun and cleverly combats life's fragility with nimble wit and a sardonically deadpan appraisal that's as unassailable as it is hilarious. Nothing captures Vian's post-ironic genius as lucidly as his rendering of the fog-shrouded funeral procession for the protagonist's lovely wife: "it was very sad looking." You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll smirk.
Britt Brown, Flaunt Magazine, February 2004
Two New Releases Resurrect One Of Bohemia's Lesser-Known Geniuses
Rays of sunlight stream through windows and congeal into honey-golden droplets on a tile floor, which are gathered like jewels by a friendly house mouse. A "pianocktail" concocts wild libations inspired by the jazz song played on it. Rifle barrels are grown like flowers in coffin-shaped planters, which have to be warmed by naked human flesh. Metal-frog-powered Rube Goldberg machines crank out a pharmacy's medications. Cops tool around in skin-tight, bulletproof black leather and heavy metal boots. A weapon kills by attaching to the torso and ripping out the heart. Welcome to the wonderfully alive and terrifyingly human world of Boris Vian.
Born in Ville-d'Avray, France, in 1920 and passing away a short 39 years later, the fearsomely talented Vian crammed nearly a dozen careers into his brief life. Educated as a engineer, Vian abandoned the steady life to pursue his other interests, turning himself into a novelist, playwright, journalist, poet, writer of pornography and sci-fi, translator, actor, musician, jazz critic, instrument inventor, and, because that wasn't quite enough, opera librettist.
Most baffling, Vian miraculously squeezed out his original, imposing output during a life that sounds lifted from a bohemian fantasy. He was a member of the College of Pataphysicians, a parody of an intellectual society dedicated to imaginary solutions. A habitué of Paris' post-war St. Germain-de-Pres, Vian befriended Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, writing a column in Sartre's Les Temps Modernes under the name "the Liar." A jazz fanatic, Vian introduced a young Miles Davis to his friend Louis Malle, and the American jazz giant eventually scored the French filmmaker's debut, Ascenseur pour l'échafaud. Vian wrote "Le Deserteur," the scathingly sardonic make love/not war song during France's Algiers troubles. He famously drank for sport; women liked him, and he liked them right back. His "debut" novel--a pulp dashed off in a fortnight called J'irai cracher sur vos tombes (I Shall Spit on Your Graves), published under the pseudonym Vernon Sullivan--became the American Psycho controversy of late-'40s Paris. When his congenital heart condition took his life--since Vian couldn't even die mundanely, he passed during a screening of the unauthorized film adaptation of his J'irai--Vian's acclaim was on the rise, and by the spring of 1968 he was a revered French cult figure.
He remains practically unknown in America, although the first U.S. editions of two of his most famous novels could correct that oversight. Dalkey Archive Press' Heartsnatcher (1953's L'Arrache-coeur, a reprint of the Stanley Chapman's 1968 translation) and Tam Tam Books' Foam of the Daze (1947's L'Écume des jours, in a new translation by Brian Harper) are fine Vian introductions to the country that fascinated him but which he never visited. (Tam Tam also has published I Spit on Your Graves, and plans to do the same with the author's Autumn in Peking.)
Ironically, Vian is one of the more American of post-war French writers, in so far as his writing is as equally informed by what he gleaned of American popular culture and styles as it is from French literature. He favors Raymond Chandler-short episodic chapters, ripe with colorful, vernacular language, even if his fondness for florid puns and alliteration, ribald neologisms, and French-culture jokes don't always translate into English.
Foam is the better introduction to both Vian's literary style and life's loves. A mash note to pretty girls and the music of Duke Ellington, the book follows the fabulous misadventures of two young couples, Colin and Chloe and Chick and Alise, through an imaginatively bustling and otherworldly Paris. (All of the above first paragraph's scenarios come from Foam.) The independently affluent Colin lies with his manservant Nicolas and a mouse, and after marrying Chloe gives his friend Chick 25,000 doublezons (the novel's monetary unit) so that he can marry Alise--which Chick blows on the publications and collectibles of his favorite writer/philosopher, "Jean-Sol Partre."
Vian vibrantly paints this quartet's good life in colorful gestures--ice-skating where valets come and broom-sweep the fallen from the ice, dancing the oglemee at bawdy parties, and Colin and Chloe's magical wedding. Yet just as Colin and Chloe become gaga newlyweds, life turns bleak. Chloe becomes mortally afflicted with a water lily growing in her lung, and Colin spends his entire fortune, sells his belongings, and finally submits to the ultimate indignity--employment--to fill their bedroom with flowers, the only medication comforting her condition. Their radiant apartment begins to shrink, until the jovial mouse has to flee. From the crucifix above an altar, Jesus mocks Colin at Chloe's funeral, wondering why Colin didn't spend as much money as he did on the wedding. The cops come after Chick, and the cast-off Alise goes after the vendors of Partre paraphernalia with the heart-snatcher.
That weapon's made-up French word--"l'arrache-coeur"--plays on the euphemism for "heartbreaker" ("crève-coeur"), and Vian's final novel carries the heartbroken's heavy weight. Heartsnatcher, though less playfully animated, is Vian's most mature work, the shadow of his lifelong knowledge that his heart could stop at any moment cast over every page. Set in a phantasmagoric small town where the old are auctioned off and the congregation assaults the priest, Heartsnatcher follows the mounting obsessions of Clementine, a mother of three--twins Noel and Joel and a third, Alfa Romeo--who loathes her husband for putting her through the rigors of birth. Clementine grows more and more overly protective as her children age, and though town psychiatrist Timortis tries to assuage her neurosis, she ends up going to extremes to shield her offspring like animals eating their young--to put them back--eventually imprisoning them in cages.
Disarmingly funny and catastrophically tragic, Vian's novels take place in parallel worlds much removed from this one, yet their emotional landscape couldn't feel more familiar: love and art and sex and life and music and everything can be great, but things can always go horribly, monumentally wrong. Vian confronted his own unknown by injecting his ceaseless talents and infectious humor into everything he did, leaving behind a body of work that inspires by example: that it's what people choose to do with their life, however troubled and brief, that makes it the intoxicating folly worth caring about.
Bret McCabe, Baltimore City Paper
A legend throughout Europe - French musician, translator of Raymond Chandler and seminal science fiction writer, poet, songwriter, novelist and screen actor - Boris Vian remains little known in the United States. Los Angeles-based TamTam Book aims to correct this, having published a paperback edition of Vian's landmark thriller "I Spit on Your Graves" in 2001 and now a new translation of his masterful "Foam of the Daze" (L'Ecume des jours"), with the first translation of "L'Automne à Pékin" to follow.
There have been two previous English translations of "Foam": Stanley Chapman's 1967 British edition, "Froth on the Daydream," and Jon Sturrock's U.S. version, "Mood Indigo," which appeared shortly thereafter. Chapman's is by far the superior, admirably transposing Vian's rhythms into English and finding equivalents for his multi-level puns and wordplay. But Brian Harper's hip new translation, edged toward the modern U.S. reader, may well become the standard.
This is a great novel, mind you. Though on its surface, the simplest of stories - Vian summed it up as "a man loves a woman, she falls ill, she dies" - beneath are a host of ambiguities, digressions, levels of meaning. Not quite beneath actually, for subtexts keep erupting to the surface. It is in many ways a novel built of eruptions.
Simply, then, this is a tale of two couples: Colin, a rich and rather superfluous man, and Chloe, a woman dying from a lily growing in her lung; Chick, whose life is ruined by his collecting of Jean-Sol Partre's books and memorabilia, and Alise, who tries to save Chick from himself by murdering Partre. As the lily grows in Chloe's lung, Colin does all he can to keep her alive. But her bed sinks closer to the ground and the room grows ever smaller. Because Colin has no money left to pay for burial, Chloe's coffin is simply thrown out the window.
In Vian's world, nothing is simple, nothing may be taken for granted. Because people they love have died, mice persuade diffident cats to kill them; bells detach themselves from doors to come and announce visitors; neckties rebel against being knotted; some broken windowpanes grow back overnight while others darken from breathing difficulties; a piano mixes cocktails to match the music being played upon it; armchairs and sausages must be calmed before use. When Colin puts Duke Ellington's "The Mood to Be Wooed" on the phonograph, the O's on the record label cause the corners of the room to become round.
In Vian's books, the world becomes ineluctably strange, the world as a child or a madman might see it. And that's the recipe for "Foam of the Daze," a novel with paradox at its heart, as critic David Meakin has observed: one part light-hearted fantasy, one part tragedy. Add wordplay and romance to taste. Your heart will be broken. You will be confused and confounded. You will laugh aloud. And at least for a time, however hard you try, your own world will refuse to be what you think it is.
Here is Colin in church after Chloe's death:
"Why did you have her die?" asked Colin.
Oh... said Jesus, drop the subject.
He looked for a more comfortable position on his nails.
She was so sweet, said Colin. Never was she bad, neither in thought, nor in action.
That has nothing to do with religion, mumbled Jesus, yawning. He shook his head a little to change the slant of his crown of thorns.
I don't see what we've done, said Colin, we don't deserve this.
He lowered his eyes... Jesus's chest was rising softly and regularly, his features breathed calm, his eyes had closed and Colin could hear a light purr of satisfaction coming from his nostrils, like a sated cat."
Vian died June 23, 1959, at 39 as he sat watching a film version of his thriller "I Spit on Your Graves." He'd neglected to take his heart medications that morning and as the first frames ticked by on screen, he is said to have uttered, "These guys are supposed to be American? My ass!" and collapsed.
Vian's was a short, very full, very strange ride, like that of his ever-youthful characters in "Foam of the Daze."
James Sallis, Los Angeles Times Book Review (Sunday, February 1, 2004).
Newly translated by Brian Harper as "Foam of the Daze," Boris Vian's L'Ecume des jours is perhaps the most highly acclaimed novel by this unusual French author. The title received its most literal translation by Stanley Chapman in his 1967 British edition, "Froth on the Daydream" (now out of print), but neither translation captures the spirit of Vian's novel like John Sturrock's 1958 U.S. edition, "Mood Indigo" (also out of print). Yet credit Harper with bringing a masterpiece back into circulation. The novel has never caught on in America, but hopefully the third time is the charm.
"Foam of the Daze" is influenced heavily by music, namely jazz - hence Sturrock's use of "Mood Indigo", a song by Duke Ellington that surfaces in the novel several times, as the title when the protagonist, Colin, first meets the love of his life, Chloe, he asks her impulsively if she's "arranged by Duke Ellington." It's clear that Vian intends Chloe to embody the bittersweet music, which promises her and Colin a less than happy fate. The lovers have dinner with friends, take walks, get married, and Chloe becomes sick as a water lily grows inside her lungs. The novel meanders in a way that's indeed reminiscent of jazz, though it may remind non-jazz lovers of a Quentin Tarantino film, with its surreal dialogue, obscure cultural references, and improbable occurrences.
From the beginning, the novel feels like a mixture of fairy tale and journalism. Realistic narrative alternates when fantasies in which inanimate objects come alive and mice act like people: "The kitchen mice loved dancing to the sound of the shock from the sunbeams on the faucets, and they ran after the little balls that the beams formed upon pulverizing themselves on the floor, like spurts of yellow mercury." Many writers have tried to pull off passages like that but few have succeeded. Lewis Carroll created a convincing universe with cartoonish characters in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," and a white rabbit wearing a waistcoat would fit in among Vian's creations. In its first half, Vian's novel is actually more exultant and luminous than anything Carroll wrote - yet "Foam of the Daze" is not a children's book. In its second half, the story turns a few shades darker than any of Alice's adventures when one of the delightful, dancing mice commits suicide by convincing a cat to eat her: "She shut her little black eyes and put her head back (in the cat's mouth). The cat carefully placed his razor sharp canines on her thin, soft, gray neck. Their two mustaches mingled together. The cat unrolled his furry tail and let it lie out on the sidewalk."
This moving scene lingers in the mind, like many of Vian's images. Vian died in 1959, but he's still a legend throughout Europe for his novels, poems, plays, and other works. An America in which Tarantino scores big at the box office might offer up a readership for "Foam of the Daze' - or at least a movie option.
Doug Pond, Rain Taxi (Summer 2004)
This offbeat, surrealist novel has been popular in France for the last half-century. Brian Harper's new translation makes a revised edition based on Vian's original manuscript available to English speakers for the first time. The novel's plot follows the rise and fall of two youthful romances. One romance involves the wealthy and idle Colin, who falls in love with Chloe. The other involves Colin's friend Chick, who falls in love with Chloe's friend Alise. The narrative opens with cheerful whimsicality, but it takes on a darker tone when troubles arise for both relationships. Chloe falls ill with "a water lily in her lungs; as a result Colin must sell his possessions and work at pointless and degrading jobs to pay for doctors who can't cure her. Chick, on the other hand, suffers a different ailment when he becomes so obsessed with the philosopher Jean-Sol Partre that he neglects Alise and reduces her to murderous desperation. A notable feature of Vian's style is his tendency to highlight impossible environmental conditions as oblique counterpoints to his characters' understated emotions. For example, after Colin is forced to sell one of his prized possessions, "The green-blue sky was hanging practically down to the pavement and large white spots marked where clouds had just smashed down." Such fantastical elements also permeate Vian's social world: e.g., an invention called a "pianocktail," currency known as "doublezons," and weapons referred to as "heart-snatchers" and "cop-killers." The novel reads like a combination of Lewis Carroll and Thomas Pynchon, and sometimes Vian's absurdist style creates an emotionally distant effect. But its final chapters sustained a powerful note of sadness for two young loves ruined by mortality, rival intellectual obsessions, and a repressive work ethic.
Thomas Hove, Review of Contemporary Fiction (Summer 2004)
Boris Vian's "Foam of the Daze", translated by Brian Harper (Tam Tam; paperback, $18) has been called "the most poignant love story of our time" (by the French polymath Raymond Queneau). The love of Colin and Chloe may end tragically, but the novel is filled with wordplay (one character collects Jean-Sol Partre memorabilia) and such imaginative notions as the "pianocktail" -- a drink blended by playing a keyboard to release different combinations of liqueurs and flavorings. Vian himself remains a legend in France; imagine a James Dean who played jazz trumpet, wrote innovative novels and poems, and died young from a bad heart.
Michael Dirda, Washington Post (Sunday December 5, 2004)
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