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(I just had to present this book to my class today. As it might be helpful to someone, somewhere, here are my notes)


Christopher Lloyd

Toni Barbarowski

Mrs. & Mr. Jack Lloyd

Nigel Lloyd (brother)

Mary Lloyd (sister)





Dave & Mike


The novel depicts three different years of Christopher’s life; at sixteen, twenty-one and thirty.

His teen years are shared with Toni. Together they crowd their days with idealisms, fascination for (mostly) French writers and exercises of disdain towards the bourgeoisie.

Later, Chris goes to France when one of the biggest strikes in history is happening and does not quite take notice or part in it. He spends most of his time in Paris orbiting Annick.

At thirty, he is married (to Marion), owns a house, has a child, and a steady job. Toni has lived up to some of their early ideals and stands as a question mark to Chris’ alleged happiness.


– 1st person

– Past tense / Present tense (two last paragraphs)

– Parenthesis (125, 140)

– Dialogues – (Biggest: running costs)

– Lists / Order (133)

– Repetition (rehearsing lines: 81)

– Three parts: Metroland – Paris – Metroland / Structure, format


Metroland was “more like a concept in the mind than a place where you shopped. And so, of course, it was. As the metropolitan Railway had pushed westward in the 1880’s, a thin corridor of land was opened up with no geographical or ideological unity: you lived there because it was an area easy to get out of. The name Metroland – adopted during the First World War both by estate agents and the railway itself – gave the string of rural suburbs a spurious integrity.” (33-4)

Chris’ life runs in parallel with the growth and history of Metroland as a living allegory of the suburb. Metroland is Chris. Chris is Metroland.

1st – 1963 – les voyelles

– Toni

– Orange

2nd – 1968 – Il le voyait comme ca, c’est tout.

– Chris

– Brown

3rd – 1977 – why then should we desire to be deceived?

– Marion

– Grey

“What else are you at that age but a creature part willing, part consenting, part being chosen?” (72)

Three girls, three colors, three years, three perspectives of Metroland and of life.

The old guy in the train: “I can call you bourgeouis (…). You can’t call yourself it. It’s just not … on. I mean, it’s against all the rules.”


– Paris: “sophisticated tough” (16) They admire France, but they won’t admit it: “Boutique (how we disapproved of these language imports)” (17-8) after having said “How about écrasing someone?” (17)

– Status: the Umbrella / “Sirred” (19)

– London (chapter 4): The Constructive Loaf (27-8 & 86)

– Veiled communication: human reproduction / eunuch (22-3)

– Class: association with the Erudite – latin, French, art, philosophy, biology, etc.

– Appearance: old guy in station (35-8)/ buying clothes (20) / clothes Chris x Toni (143)

– England nationality – love and hate : “despite the handicaps of being English” (32)

– Wit – the épat game, Arthur

– Repressed emotions: “a surging need to scream, which the house rules forbid (they always do), so that you lie there with your mouth open in a trembling panic…” (54)

– Dave & Mickey (108-11)

“Britishness” X “Americanism”

– Symbol of Sex: Span magazine – published by US embassy in India – 1st time they saw a real woman naked (24) / “his tendency of americanise sex” (80)

– America as a rebel: Toni goes to America, Chris goes to Paris


– Distant, cold, inaccessible teacher (23)

– School as a barrier to life: “ Life didn’t really get under way until you left school; we were mature enough to acknowledge this point. When you did get out there, you started / ‘…making Moral Decisions…’ / ‘…and Having Relationships…’ / ‘…and Becoming Famous…’ / ‘…and Choosing Your Own Clothes’”

– School as a static institution: “It all seemed remarkably static. Each year new curricula were fed us, which closely resembled the old curricula…”

– Teacher is not a job (138)


Poem Voyelles by Rimbaud (Part One)

Arnolfini Wedding by Jan van Eick (Part One)

Rouen Cathedral, by Monet (Part One, 72)

Equestrian portrait of Charles I by Van Dyck (Part One)

Baudelaire à colors à sense of identity (15)

“la civilisation belge” (15) – Charles Baudelaire: game

Voltaire “Ecraser l’infame” (15): game

“Épater la bourgeoisie” (Shock the middle class) – Used by Rimbaud and Baudelaire: game

Camus – existentialist influence

A kind of loving 1962 – June Ritchie

Shakespeare and Molière – the husband ideal

Mens sana in corpora sano – About the students who joined the strike

Au Hasard Balthazar, by Bresson – First movie with Annick

Dictionnaire des Idees Recus, by Flaubert (47) – Reading at Arthur´s house

“first, suppressed edition of Madame Bovary” (93) – Chris´first kiss

L’Education Sentimentale, by Flaubert (130) – Book Chris is reading when leaving Paris

Les liaisons dangereuses, by Vadim – Before Chris´ first time

Interesting links

Different translations of Les Voyelles:

The National Gallery:

London in literature:

Article on Rimbaud and Verlaine:

History of Maps of London Railway:


I just need to get a couple of half a dozen things off of my chest.

1)      Please, stop discussing altruism, “Friends” made a great episode on the theme, let’s hang on to it.

2)      What is the problem with going from gothic art to street art to a specific guy’s art to elephant art? People are so attached to some words that they take it as a personal offense if you say graffiti is art… When in doubt or in lack of imagination, let’s stick to the dictionary, please. Words are not like underwear, if someone (mis)uses it, you CAN use it again without fear that you may catch the terrible smell disposed on it previously.

3)      If you don’t like museums, then don’t go to museums. Simple as that. No need to hate them and want all of them to be banned from Earth or hate people who enjoy going to museums.

4)      Why do people insist that the artist is irrelevant to the work he has made?  If a guy who doesn’t know how to read makes amazing paintings with his feet, awesome! If some parents sell their 2 year old’s paintings as art for a couple of hundred dollars, awesome! If an elephant paints pretty flowers in canvas, awesome! You look at it and you see the world through it, awesome! We might like it even though we don’t know who the artist is, but if we want to analyze it, we have to know who did it! It’s like looking at a gothic church and ignoring it is a church, when it was made, or who the king was at the time… If it wasn’t important, artists just wouldn’t sign their names. I do understand you can’t read people’s mind, so saying “ I think he wanted to say that” is not the best way to express the different interpretations  you can draw from the work, but between that and forgetting the author, lies an abysm.

5)      You must learn geometric shapes, then how to fill in the shapes, then color, then texture, and then you can draw. Really?  I must have been asleep when the all-mighty came and gave us the amendments on how to draw.

6)      People are bad. Yes, people are bad. And good! Isn’t that amazing?

7)      Why do students cheat on tests, why don’t they want to learn, why are they late, why do they skip class? BECAUSE THEY DON’T WANT TO BE IN SCHOOL. When it is someone’s duty to go do something, you can’t really expect him/her to rejoice, right?

8)      Marriage sucks. Ok, don’t get married.

9)      I can’t stand the baby crying all night and pooping all day! Don’t have babies, don’t babysit nor work in a nursery school.

10)    I don’t understand why people do this or do that… Right, you don’t understand, that’s it.

11)   It’s all about money! Freud would say it’s all about sex. There might be other things involved, such as fear, search for power, beliefs, hazard, choices, love, but, hm, it’s all suggestion.

12)   I reserve the rights to change my mind, make use of irony and be in a bad mood, thanks.

She was walking in a large, noisy street. The smoke, the cars, the signs overwhelmed her. In a turn, she decided she couldn’t take it no longer, and she walked back to her apartment. The confusion from the outside had been transferred to the inside. Shakespeare, Fowles, Flaubert, Barnes and Freud occupied her sofa. Dirty dishes had taken over her kitchen. Even the floor had been conquered by clothes. She couldn’t go back outside or stay inside. The phone rang. Just on the last ring she picked it up. The steady and familiar voice on the other side spoke some ordinary words. The house seemed cozy during those minutes. They hang up. She couldn’t run away, her confusion was right in front of her eyes. The phone rang again. This time it was a sharp and savvy voice she could always reproduce in her head. He just wanted to know how she was doing. He didn’t want to let go. They hang up. She called him back. She told him how she felt like Madame Bovary, and Anne, and Edna and Miranda. How she couldn’t stay or leave. How everything was out of place. As they talked, she washed the dishes, put her clothes up, brought the books down. They hang up. The first voice was on the door. She met him, they kissed. The house was clean. She was home again.

– why do you like reading all these novels?

– they are interesting, they make me think about all sorts of things and be able to see new layers of everything I experience.

– but they’re lies!

– well, yes, I can’t disagree with that, but I don’t see a problem with that either.

– reading real things, facts, gives you a much better picture of “everything you experience”. I don’t understand how someone would rather read lies instead of reality.

– hum…texts are always biased, even when they are strictly describing a fact. But hum, don’t you like jokes?

– yes, but that’s different…

– in what ways?

– it’s for entertainment

– novels can’t be entertaining?

– they’re not funny, you were just telling me how you feel disgusted that you are inside the mind of a guy who kidnapped a girl… I don’t understand how you can feel all those things if you know they’re not true.

– because while you are reading it, it is your reality, your truth.

– but you know it’s fake, it’s a lie

– you did believe in Santa, right?

– yes

– it’s the same thing

– no, it’s not, because you don’t know it is a lie

– but now that you do, you still want to tell your children Santa exists

– yes

– why?

– because it is fun, it’s a pleasant and harmless activity in family

– so it’s a good lie

– you’re getting away from the point, why do you like to deliberately read lies? how or why does it add to your life? I know you can like anything you want to. I still don’t understand how you can feel all these things knowing they are lies.

– ok, so you said you can understand children because they don’t know Santa doesn’t exist. when you open a book, you are a child, you believe Santa exists. Santa is the story, your parents are the author , the presents are the feelings/thoughts you get from reading.

– that doesn’t make sense, why would someone write, considering your theory, if he can’t see you are having fun with his presents?

– I hope that fundamentally parents buy presents for the sake of giving a present, for the family moment, the interaction, the sharing. I would risk say that’s the greatest pleasure in writing: sharing. I think it’s kind of implicit that the person who opens the book will believe in the story and take something out of it, sort of a pact between author and reader. and, anyway, much more concrete are the critics; almost an incarnation of this pact…

– alright, but I still don’t want to read the book

– ok, I didn’t ask you to

– but if you want to tell me the story you can

– I will

Relationships are about establishing and abolishing boundaries between you, yourself, the world, the universe and, consequently, whoever you are relating with.

– I don’t know what you are talking about.

You two have been talking for about half an hour. You are trying to get your point across, he is doing the same. Healthy, nice, warm debate. Then when you reach that place, that almost intangible place, where he knows he will be left without his (un)carefully welded armor of truths, he says: “I don’t know what you ‘re talking about”. Of course he doesn’t.  You can try to explain it again, say it in other words, it doesn’t matter. “You’re making no sense”. He wants to not think about it. For you it’s left a decision: is it arrogance or cowardice?


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