My second Gide book and I quite enjoyed it. It’s a story about a young man, Michel, narrating his life. Michel learns more about himself through introspection after getting married ,witnessing tragedies, feeling rootless while travelling around Europe and North Africa. It’s essentially a tale of self-discovery.In tone this book really reminded me of Camus. I was expecting something a little more shocking as I heard this book was considered scandalous at the turn of the last century.There were homosexual undertones and hints of possible pedophilia, or was the antagonist simply admiring the health of children after having recovered from a serious illness? So many uncertainties.I found Michel to be a very interesting character, a bit weird in that he got married just to make his dying father happy. The parts where the protagonist recovered from illness and began to see things in a different way, to appreciate the health and beauty that he has lost were the most interesting to me. It made me think a lot, surely we’re not the same person after having experienced something so serious and life-changing? We must gain a new awareness:
“After my brush with the wing of death, the things that seemed important before no longer mattered; other things had taken their place, things which had never seemed important before, which I didn’t even know existed. The accreted layers of acquired learning flaked away like greasepaint, offering glimpses of bare flesh, the real person hidden underneath.”
Initially Michel is academic, a genius of sorts who simply wants to write books and give lectures but his illness makes him change his view to the point that he doesn’t feel comfortable in society:
“As an academic, I felt foolish; as a man- did I know myself?”
What I liked most about the book were the complex themes, philosophical in their approach, possibly because I have obsessed over them myself in the past, especially authenticity and happiness.It was hard to ignore the exoticism in here, the labelling of the North African Muslim boys as the “other,” but overall I quite enjoyed this book.