I am so confused.
But I think that’s the point.
So you know how everything in the world can explained by a process we call “science”?
Meet Dr. Faustroll, a pataphysician, who is perpetually 65, bathes in wallpaper, and travels on land and sea in a sieve in the company of a monkey who understands human speech and a lawyer trying to convict him for debt.
Because pataphysics is the science…of nonsense.
It doesn’t make sense.
That’s pretty much it. The plot doesn’t make sense, and I’m pretty sure its not meant to. It’s very episodic—no overarching story, just stuff happening. Weird stuff. With very little reason.
And I would be okay with this episodic set up if the episodes were remotely entertaining. Instead, stuff just happens.
Dr. Faustroll is Jarry’s pataphysical instrument. He has no other purpose than to be weird and spout weird theories.
His trusty friend, Bosse-de-Nage the monkey, isn’t that much more of an interesting character. The only thing he can say is “Ha ha”, which, for some reason, everyone understands.
I think the reader is meant to identify with the narrator, the lawyer Panmuphle, who is sort of abducted into the adventures of Faustroll. He gets exposed to the science of pataphysics in the same way as the reader, and he comes to appreciate and sort of understand it. He doesn’t really have much personality besides a placeholder for the reader, though.
What. What? What?
…did I just read?
Jarry doesn’t believe that novels should be straightforward. The reader has to work to find the answer.
This makes it a big problem with all the intertextuality in the novel, especially since over half of the chapters are dedicated to other writers, and I’m pretty sure each dedicated chapter is either a parody or a commentary on the writer’s work.
Because I don’t want to do all that work. I’m willing to do some, but reading at least 14 other books is not going to happen. Especially since most of them are in French.
I have a firm belief that a novel should be able to stand on its own, despite whether or not the story is part of a series, has intertextuality, or is a stand alone. Yes, it can have cliffhangers. Yes, it can make me want to read the books it refers to. But I shouldn’t have to.
A large portion of the novel heavily relies on the reader knowing all the other texts. And that’s just not a fun way to read.
I feel like this is what Tristram Shandy must be like on acid. And if Tristram’s hobby horse was science instead of writing.
That being said, I certainly like the idea of pataphysics. Science can’t explain everything. And pataphysics is the idea that things are defined by itself, in relation to others, and is completely imagined.
Dr. Faustroll is the epitome of randomness, and possibly pretentiousness. I just don’t care for Jarry’s writing style. It largely distracts from the story—if one even exists. The novel does convey the idea of pataphysics really well though, and I would be willing to read a different book on the subject.
Recommendation: Maybe. You might like this if you’re a fan of surreal novels. If not, stay away.