Dr. Samuel Johnson once said “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” Some of us know this because Hunter S. Thompson used it as a sort of touchstone in his classic “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”.
And it is well to reference Dr. Thompson at the beginning of this review, not simply because Mr. Beigbeder uses another line from the good doctor to kick off the fifth section of his novel-cum-memoir-cum-roman-a-clef.
Nor simply because Mr. Beigbeder namechecks from the opening pages with the rapid-fire desperation of a coked-up rapper in a hostile room. Aldous Huxley, Charles Bukowski, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Marcel Proust, Tom Ford and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski all drop in at some point.
No, the most important reason for launching this review of Frédéric Beigbeder’s (in)famous book with Dr. Johnson’s thoughts about the unreasonable behaviour of men is because it sums up in about sixteen words what it would appear Mr. Beigbeder is trying to get at in nearly 85,000 and yet which he never quite seems to arrive at.
£9.99, which was originally published in Mr. Beigbeder’s native France under the title “99 Francs”, ostensibly tells the story of how the narrator, Octave Parengo, a creative allegedly based on Mr. Beigbeder who works at an agency allegedly based on Y&R Paris, rises through the ranks over the course of a few weeks even as he is hell bent on getting himself fired. How is he going to get himself fired? By writing a book exposing all the stupid things he does – and is forced to do – as a creative at an agency. Like what? Like deal with unreasonable clients. Like dodge the slings and arrows of petty office politics. Like endure the soul-crushing misery of being ridiculously overpaid to sell meaningless products in a world where there is misery and pain and duplicity and mendacity. Why, it’s enough to make a guy fly private…
For example, here’s Frédéric – er, Octave – cataloguing all the things he has in his absurdly large apartment, on page 92. And 93. And 94. And 95. From Berluti shoes to an Eames chair to a fridge filled with Petrossian caviar to pictures of himself with Jude Law and Naomi Campbell and Posh & Becks.
And here is Mr. Beigbeder – oops, Mr. Parengo – describing the sex he has had, or will have, or wants to have with any number of starlets, super models, co-workers, prostitutes, and/or teenagers, either consecutively or concurrently. And here’s poor Frédéric – sorry again, Octave – complaining that “This whole civilization rests on the false longings that you dream up. It’s going to die. Our way of life is a big suicide.” And then here he is (which one? I’ve forgotten…) showing us his deeper side, comparing his life to a nightmare and asking the reader “How exactly do you wake yourself up when you’re not sleeping?”
What the hell is wrong with the people in our industry that they feel compelled to produce these superficial, poorly plotted, and abysmally written exercises which paint us as spoiled, superficial, asinine prats who piss away ridiculous amounts of money doing nothing of any value and who then have the audacity to whine about it from the comfort of their first class airplane seats and glass tower office blocks? Don’t get me wrong – a lot of us are. Maybe even most of us. But I would be willing to bet that most people in every industry are. I am willing to believe that advertising is not the only industry in which every person is not a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s the law of averages, mate – or, to paraphrase William S. Burroughs, it’s because 99% of everything is crap and that includes human beings.
The difference, it would seem is that people in other industries don’t feel compelled to publish the feces of the most annoying of their ilk.
And yet here we are, with another nominally talented embarrassment embarrassing us with his self-pitying ruminations on why he’s so self-pitying. Why he can’t fall in love. Why he does so much coke. Why he isn’t fulfilled. Is this business difficult? Of course it is. Are we often misunderstood? Of course we are. Is it exhausting, heartbreaking, and disappointing? Do we often find ourselves ranting about things that in the grand scheme of things don’t matter at all?
You mean like this book? Sigh. Yes, I’m afraid we do.