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Raymond Queneau: Zazie dans le metro (Zazie)

Zazie, a young girl from the provinces, arrives at the Gare d’Austerlitz, where she is met by her uncle Gabriel, a female impersonator. He and his wife, Marceline are looking after Zazie for a while because, as Zazie succinctly points out, Zazie’s mother has no time for her family when she has a new boyfriend. There is only thing Zazie wants to do in Paris and that is ride the Metro. When offered Napoleon, her response is Napoléon mon cul. Il m’intéresse pas du tout, cet enflé, avec son chapeau à la con. (Napoleon my arse. I am not the least interested in that old windbag with his silly bugger’s hat.) Unfortunately for both Zazie and Gabriel, there is a strike on, so she can’t go on the Metro. Zazie is an insufferable brat, a nasty pre-Lolita if you will, determined to have her own way. She is foul-mouthed, uses slang, tries to emulate adults but, of course, fails, is rude to everyone and tells the most preposterous lies. She runs away from her uncle to explore Paris on her own, when she can’t take the Metro. She always wants her own way. When she can’t get her favourite drink at the restaurant, she makes such a fuss that they go and get her one from next door. Queneau’s style is to use slang and phonetic spelling, which is complicated at first (both in the French and English editions) but you soon get the hang of it. And, of course, Zazie, with her faux charm, her insouciance and her criticisms of the adult world and all its misdeeds, is a wonderful literary creation. We can’t help being amused by her, even if we find her somewhat annoying.

Publishing history

First published 1959 by Gallimard
First published in English 1960 by Bodley Head
Translated by Barbara Wright