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André Gide: Les faux-monnayeurs (US: The Counterfeiters; UK: The Coiners)

This is Gide’s greatest novel and one of my favourite novels of all time. It plays around with a lot of literary devices. Firstly, it uses the Chinese box or mise en abyme technique. Secondly, it plays with multiple points of view. There is an omniscient narrator telling the story but he claims that he is not omniscient, opening up the reality/perception dilemma. Then there is the story as told by the main character, Edouard, who keeps a journal and who is writing a novel called les Faux-Monnayeurs about a novelist writing a novel called les Faux-Monnayeurs. Thirdly, as in Les caves du Vatican (US: The Vatican Swindle; Lafcadio’s Adventures; UK: The Vatican Cellars), there is a incredibly complicated plot, which jumps from one part to the next, leaving you hanging and wondering where to pick up the thread, generally involving a lot of people closely involved with one another. Finally, it is a novel that can be read on many levels. The first level is, as the title in both French and English suggests, about forging money, though Gide is using this as a very obvious symbol for the broader idea of faking it. In other works, most of the characters are living counterfeit lives.

Summarising the plot would be far more difficult than summarising the plot of Les caves du Vatican (US: The Vatican Swindle; Lafcadio’s Adventures; UK: The Vatican Cellars) and I did a pretty poor job of that. Suffice it to say that there are three main families and, as in Les caves du Vatican (US: The Vatican Swindle; Lafcadio’s Adventures; UK: The Vatican Cellars), there are unhappy and fluctuating relationships, questions about paternity, suicide and religion and the lack of it and intimations of homosexuality. The core story revolves around a coin counterfeiting ring centred in a boarding school run by one of the families. The key character is the novelist Edouard, who is a rival of Passavant, a”popular”novelist” but whose theories on the novel (which he expounds) are akin to those of Gide. Most of the characters engage in counterfeit (literally or figuratively) activities and most (but certainly not all) resolve their issues by the end of the novel. How we get there is brilliantly done by Gide, who leaves us dangling all the way but manages to give us a superb story (or, rather, set of stories) as well as make some trenchant points about perception and reality and what is true and what is not.

Publishing history

First published 1925 by NRF
First published in English 1927 by Knopf