From the winter 1997 issue
A leading Paris periodical recently hailed Benoît Duteurtre, author of Gaîté parisienne, as « l’écrivain à la mode. » One can understand the reasons why. He has captured the atmosphere of a certain Paris of the 1990s, which has lost much of the charm of the logendary city of « J’ai deux amours. » The title may be deliberately ambiguous. Today’s Paris no longer strikes him as gai or « joyous. » The gaîté refers rather to the Paris of « the gays, » the city of « pop culture~ of American origin, of « rave parties, » homo nightclubs, and steam baths which has formed a generation of young gays, all dressed in torn jeans and wearing rings in their ears and nostrils. They have inventod the art of « living at a distance »; they do not want to « get involved. » They are « indifferent » to everything except « getting ahead » in their careers. (And if they are so indifferent toward one another, the reader cannot help but feel a certain indifference toward them~) They represent the prophets of a new Europe of « barbares déchirés. »
Not very substantial or exciting as fiction, the monotonous erotic games of three of « the boys »óMichel, Nicolas and their young lover Julienósoon become more boring than shocking. Still, Duteurtre has produced an intelligent and very readable sociological essay about certain aspects of French societv today. Paris is no longer « gai, » not even for the « gais, » as « the City of Light » has been darkened by pollution, traffic jams, and the other blessings of modern life, as well as by violence and massive unemployment. We moct Nicolas, a tormented « old » fellow of thirty a successful journalist, as he strolls along the banks of thé Seine, no longer as picturesque as when he was a boy. The old barges have been transformed into flouting theaters, piano bars, and tourist cruise boats. On each side of the river, bumper-to-bumper traffic scrceches by, enveloped by exhaust fumes. He thinks he might stop at Notre Dame and contemplate the cathedral, but the whole area is packed with busses and parkod cars. He plans on spending a few days of peace and quiet in the Breton village of his parents. An illusion. Teeming with tourists, the beach is lined with vendors and hamburger stands. The big attraction is the casino, where crowds are banging on the slot machines day and night.
Nicolas does not wish to consider himself a « homo, » since he is attracted only to « normal young men. » Through Michel, a former lover, one evening in the nightclub « Le Boy, » he meets Julien, a handsome young fellow who is getting a dogrce in business and is « President of Junior Enterprise. » Nicolas succceds in making a date with him, and the next eveningJulien appears at his apartment. After some preliminary gambits, Julien indicates that he would not mind « having sex. » But Nicolas, to his embarrassment, « can’t get it up. » Julien, as always, remains indifferent: « Don’t worry. It could happen to anybody. » Throughout the narrative, such scenes are reported in clinically explicit terms, far different from the discreet eroticism of Gide and his lovers.
Julien « moves in » with Michel, who invites Nicolas to visit them, which provides the occasion for the thrce « boys » to sodomize each other in a spirit of indifferent good fellowship. No moral qualms. Nicolas begins to take part in gay activities. He helps distribute condoms to students. He participates in a big demonstration in which the gays celebrate a homosexual marriage, blessed by a group of lesbians disquised as Carmelite nuns!
Gaité parisienne (or really « tristesse parisienne ») concludes where it began, with Nicolas wandering, melarlcholy and alone, along the Seine, sceking peace and silence but finding only tourist boats blatting out deafening announcements in half a dozon languages about the sights of « schén Paris. » He is missing Julien, who is abroad attending an international congress of the young financiers of « Junior Enterprise. »
John L Brown