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mheu, Historical Museum of the Urban Environment

Zazie dans l'métro (excerpt)

Raymond Queneau

" 'Unkoo,' she yells,'are we going by metro?'
'What d'you mean, no?'
She has come to a full stop. Gabriel likewise halts, turns round, puts the suitcase down and starts to iksplain.
'Well yes: no. Today, can't be done. Za strike.'
'Za strike?'
'Well yes: za strike. The metro, that eminently parisian means of transport, has fallen asleep under the ground, for the employees with their perforating punches have ceased to work.'
'Oo the bastards,' cries Zazie,'oo the swine. To do that to me'.
'Snot only you they're doing it to,' says Gabriel, perfectly objective.
'Don't give a damn. Doesn't alter the fact that it's happening to me, me that was so happy, so pleased and everything to be going to be conveyed by metro. Blast, bloody hell.'
'Have to make the best of it, have to be reasonable,' said Gabriel whose remarks were sometimes tinged with a slightly Kantian Thomism."

Date : 1959
Editions : Gallimard

View this work in the Urban transportation exhibition

The work

The novel Zazie dans le metro (Zazie in the Metro), published in 1959, is one of Raymond Queneau's best known works. Zazie, a 12-year old girl, comes to Paris to visit her uncle and is keen to ride on the Metro. But the Metro is on strike and Zazie gets to experience Parisian life in a series of misadventures that she survives thanks to her determination to discover the reality of the adult world.

An initiatory if surreal novel, Zazie dans le métro was made into a film by Louis Malle.

The author

Raymond Queneau was an unclassifiable French literary figure. Born in Le Havre in 1903, he moved to Paris at a young age and published his first writings in 1931.After flirting with the Surrealists and the "new novel", he developed his own original work characterized by an unrelenting exploration of the forms of language. The founding of Oulipo, a group of writers and mathematicians, was an important step in this process. Studying the ways that literature is constructed, the group sought literary inspiration within the confines of formal constraints. Cent mille milliards de poèmes (Hundred Thousand Billion Poems) is an example of this: the verses of the ten sonnets, each of which has a proper grammatical and poetic structure, are interchangeable from one poem to another, so a vast number of different poems—

100,000,000,000,000—can be constructed at random. This movement gave rise to a significant body of literature, like the Georges Perec's novel La disparition (translated into English as A Void), written entirely without using the letter "e". Another side to his inventiveness was displayed in satirical novels such as Zazie dans le métro, which was to become a seminal work.