Boris Vian (1920-1959) was a magnificent jack-of-all-trades--actor, jazz critic, engineer, musician, playwright, songwriter, translator--not to mention the leading social light of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés scene. His third major novel, Red Grass is a provocative narrative about an engineer, Wolf, who invents a bizarre machine that allows him to revisit his past and erase inhibiting memories. A frothing admixture of Breton, Freud, Carroll, Hammett, Kafka and Wells, Red Grass is one of Vian's finest and most enduring works, a satire on psychoanalysis--which Vian wholly and vigorously disapproved of--that inflects science fiction with dark absurdity and the author's great wit. Much in the novel can be regarded as autobiography, as our hero attempts to liberate himself from past traumatic events in the arenas of religion, social life and--of course--sex. Red Grass is translated by Vian scholar Paul Knobloch.
Written under Vian's famous «Vernon Sullivan» pseudonym, I Spit on Your Graves tells the story of a «white negro» who avenges his murdered brother with a series of killings in a small town in the deep south. A bestseller in France, the book was notoriously used as a model for a copycat killing.
First published in French in 1948, To Hell with the Ugly saw Boris Vian's noir-novelist pseudonym Vernon Sullivan take on Vian's own burlesque pop sensibilities. An erotic crime novel with science fiction tendencies, Sullivan's third outing is described by its translator as "a pornographic Hardy Boys novel set on the Island of Dr. Moreau to a be-bop soundtrack." To Hell with the Ugly recounts the tale of Rock Bailey, a dashing 19-year-old lad determined to hold onto his virginity amidst the postwar jazz-club nightlife of Los Angeles-a resolution challenged by the machinations of the demented Doctor Markus Schutz, who has decided to breed beautiful human beings and found a colony in which ugliness is a genetic crime. Vian's brutal depictions of American race relations in his previous Sullivan novels here give way to a frenetic fantasy of eugenics and uniformity-a parodic anticipation of the cosmetic surgery that was to rule Hollywood over the coming decades, as well as a comic-book reflection on Nazi Germany's visions of a master race. With the novel's breathless domino tumble of fist fights, car chases, kidnappings, and murders, Vian here set out to out-Hollywood Hollywood, serving up a narrative cocktail of Raymond Chandler, H.G.Wells, Brave New World and Barbarella.
A nonconformist satire of both bureaucracy and nonconformism from the French polymath and author of Foam of the Days.
Written at the age of 23 for his friends in the winter of 1943-44, Vercoquin and the Plankton was the first of Vian's novels to be published under his own name. Published in 1947, the book came out two months after his succès de scandale I Spit on Your Graves and two months before the publication of his beloved classic The Foam of the Days. At once social documentary, scathing satire and jazz manifesto, Vercoquin and the Plankton describes the collision of two worlds under the Vichy regime: that of the youthful dandyism of the ever-partying Zazous and the murderously maniacal bureaucracy of a governmental office for standardization. In this roman à clef drawn from Vian's own contradictory lives as a jazz musician on the Left Bank and an engineer at the French National Organization for Standardization, the reader is introduced to a handful of characters inhabiting a world lying somewhere between Occupied Paris and Looney Tunes.
Boris Vian (1920-59) was a French polymath who in his short life managed to inhabit the roles of writer, poet, playwright, musician, singer/songwriter, translator, music critic, actor, inventor and engineer, before dying of a heart attack at the age of 39, after authoring ten novels, several volumes of short stories, plays, operas, articles and nearly 500 songs. Vian is remembered as one of the reigning spirits of the postwar Parisian Latin Quarter, a friend to everyone from Jean-Paul Sartre to Raymond Queneau and Miles Davis, playing trumpet with Claude Abadie and Claude Luter, and an influence on such future kindred spirits as Serge Gainsbourg.