In J.P. Donleavy's The Unexpurgated Code
, one of the best sections covers correct etiquette when visiting prostitutes. Deadpan as ever, Donleavy tells you, among other things, to agree on terms and services before any stripping occurs. He advises you to drive a firm, hard bargain. "And never accept a tired, bored, couldn't-care-less attitude," he concludes, "even if you are madame's forty-fourth client that day."
I'm afraid I find Donleavy's advice very funny. The reason it's funny, I think, is that Donleavy is saying something that at root is true: even if you have an appalling job, you should try and do it professionally and to the best of your ability. Now, I'm not literally arguing that prostitutes should do their best to please their clients - Donleavy's humour, as usual, depends on comic exaggeration - but if you have a slightly less horrible job, like ghost-writing Brigade Mondaine novels, then I definitely agree with him.
Having read over 20 titles in the series, I find it fascinating to compare the approaches used by different authors. Quite a few of the books, for example Les Amants de Singapour
, La Griffe de l'Ange
or La Justicière de Strasbourg
are written by people who weren't too proud to take their job seriously. They've succeeded in producing entertaining trash novels, where there's a coherent story and the inevitable lashings of explicit sex are in most cases at least marginally relevant. To these people, I say: Chapeau!
I raise my hat to you. I hope you enjoyed your time at the Brigade Mondaine stable as much as you could, learned something from it, and went on to better things.
And then you have authors like the one who wrote Les Taxis de l'Amour
. By the time I was halfway through, I already hated him. (I'm pretty sure it's a him). Yes, Monsieur, I'm aware that you think you're too good for Brigade Mondaine and that you're wasting your talents here. I can see that you wanted to write a stylish snow-noir à la Fargo
, with references to Utrillo's White Period and long, elegant literary sentences. (By the way: your long sentences aren't nearly as elegant as you seem to believe).
And then you think, oh yeah, gotta put in some sex to fulfill the terms of my contract, and you just slap it on any old how, without worrying if it makes sense or has anything to do with the story. The jealous wife turns up to murder the Russian actress who's sleeping with her husband and you randomly add some lesbian action, even though it's completely nonsensical and the wife isn't depicted as being bisexual anywhere else. Devoted father-of-three Mémé, who on top of everything else is suffering from a heavy cold, arrives at a brothel to follow up a lead, and you have him fuck the hot waitress because hey, why not, we haven't had any sex for ten pages. Monsieur Smarty-Pants Would-Be-Auteur: are you aware that not one single sex scene
is in any way relevant to the plot? You could cut them all out and no one would notice. I'd like to hope that you're ashamed of yourself, but you probably don't even think it's important.
Gaaagh. It's people like this that give French intellectuals a bad name. Thank God there are still a few decent craftsmen left who don't think it's beneath them to turn out a competently written dirty book without whining. Keep up the good work, and never for one moment think your readers can't tell the difference. We can. You guys are terrific.