“A ragged, hodge-podge of rants and lamentations” – A Life Without End by Frederic Beigbeder, (translated by Frank Wynne)

“When all’s said and done, psychoanalysis is just badly written Proust,” I said.
My psychiatrist nodded politely.
“It’s weird” I added, “I’m paid to talk to millions of viewers, but you’re the only person who listens to me.”
“Because you pay me.”
“Anyway the reason I’m here is that I’ve decided not to die.”

If you bet your house that this scrap of dialogue came from a Woody Allen movie, you’d be packing up your belongings.

Frederic Beigbeder’s novel, A Life Without End, often reads like a non-fiction diary or a memoir (the back cover describes it a “humorous memoir.” It also clearly fits the requirements of autofiction. Yet in other places it is categorised as a novel. I’m willing to put pedantry aside: it’s a book). A Life Without End ’s narrator is a rich white entertainment celebrity (named Beigbeder) who makes his living in front of TV cameras. Narrator Beigbeder used to have an edgy reality TV show on which he took drugs with famous guests: Hunter S. Thompson crossed with David Letterman. After aging to 50, he experiences a sudden sense of his own mortality, partly fuelled by health problems in his elderly parents.

However, he emphasises that he is not concerned about your death or mine. The entire point of his investigation is that he doesn’t want to die. “Let’s be clear: I do not hate death; I hate my death.”

Beigbeder’s book is structured as a ragged, hodge-podge of rants and lamentations that range from regrets about the unfairness of growing old to the futility of life that ends in death. He howls at the inanity of selfies, the emptiness of nihilism, and the ubiquity of YouTube culture. In his novel, he includes interview transcripts and lists of humorous comparisons between robots and humans, for example. Accompanied by Romy, his 10-year-old daughter, he embarks on a road trip across Europe and then from LA to NYC and chases answers from scientists, doctors, and health gurus about the causes of death as well as life extension theories. He visits laboratories, hospitals, sanitariums, and detoxification spas. He obtains blood transfusions from teenagers and has his entire genetic code mapped out and analysed. He and Romy spend weeks at a swanky, vegan-type spa where they work-out with nutritionists and physical therapy experts.

The book’s satirical jabs are generally aimed at slow-moving targets: pampered celebrities, religious hypocrisies, and corporate moguls. Perhaps Beigbeder’s primary satirical target is himself, especially when he recounts his own stupidity, excesses, or physical degradations. He jokes about his celebrity privilege when he skips to the front of a famous doctor’s consultation waiting line: “I’m a celebrity and the system we live in isn’t totally democratic.” He enjoys telling us how much his blood transfusions and DNA examinations cost. He buys an expensive Japanese robot named Pepper as a companion for Romy. The girl and the robot “fall in love” and want to get married in NYC. Seriously.

There’s a whiff of stand-up comedian to his prose, which is filled with stale one-liners:

“How can you bring up a child when you’ve done everything in your power to be infantile?”
“It seems paradoxical that places intended to help you not to die make you want to kill yourself.”
“We all live the same non-life; we want to shine in the reflected glow of others.”

Any Cop:?: Beigbeder’s tone is self-deprecatory, glib, and facile. I was never able to forget that I was reading about a rich person whining about the minute imperfections in his perfect life. I rarely took his observations seriously because I couldn’t separate them from his privilege. I read this unfocused, ramshackle memoir/novel/autofiction during a pandemic. No ventilators will be spared for mediocre satire. I don’t expect statements like this to age well: “Humankind has mastered everything. . . . It’s time for medicine to put an end to death. Once that’s done, we’ll work out how to find space to deal with the overcrowding.”

 

Chris Oleson

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