Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Nadja by Andre Breton

nadja cover

You might recall that at the beginning of Classics Month, Meghan and I challenged one another to each read a classic novel.  Since my specialty is art, I challenged Meghan to read Nadja, by the pope of surrealism, AndrĂ© Breton, and today she's going to tell me what she thought of it!  
If you want to read what I thought of my challenge book, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, head over to Medieval Bookworm.

Review: Nadja, Andre Breton
While walking on the streets in Paris one day, Andre Breton encounters a young woman to whom he is immediately drawn.  As he gets to know her, he begins to encourage her art, and despite his married state, he begins to obsess over her and eventually fall in love with her.  Interspersed with this odd love story are Breton’s musics about art, beauty, and the state of the world, as well as numerous photographs and drawings.
This is one of those books which requires a ton of engagement on the part of the reader.  It felt as though every sentence was just loaded with meaning, at times to an overwhelming degree.  I’m pretty sure I wasn’t intelligent enough to “get it all” the first time, and I think a second read would probably help a lot.  It’s a book that you need a class to dissect, and I’m sure that if I had a class on it, I would probably like it a lot more.
As it stands, though, I’m not sure reading it was entirely an enjoyable experience (although I wasn’t helped by the fact that it was on reserve and I had to read it in the not-so-quiet library!).  There were a full sixty pages before Andre even met Nadja, full of his musings on various things.  There were plenty of sentences that struck me as meaningful, but there was almost too much of it, and I wanted some part of the story to start.
When Nadja finally arrived on the scene, I was surprised to discover how peculiar she was, and also that I didn’t feel this was a love story.  They have a relationship, certainly, but it felt to me like Breton was using her as an object of curiosity, placing her on some pedestal where she didn’t belong, only so he could discard her later.  I didn’t like him at all, and I wasn’t interested in his thoughts on anything.  The photographs were interesting enough, but I wasn’t sure I was intelligent or educated enough to see how they fit in with the text.
In fact, probably the most interesting part of the book was the introduction, wherein I learned that Nadja was a real person!  I always read introductions last, and it was fascinating to know that this wasn’t actually fiction like I’d automatically assumed.  After years of thinking Nadja was a combination of different women, researchers discovered that she actually existed.  That caused me to think about the book in a new light, but didn’t rescue Breton from my dislike, that’s for sure.
To be honest, I’d never read a surrealist novel before, at least not that I can recall, and perhaps my lack of education in that area made it difficult for me to appreciate this sort of literature.  I’ve had enough experience with everything else that I can generally “get it” but I’m not sure this is a book that can just be enjoyed when read straight through alone.  Tasha might disagree with me, but I think I’ll stay away from this movement in the future!


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