(4 / 5) (Jacques The Fatalist – a review
Author – Denis Diderot
First published in 1796 in France)
I’m sitting in my place when the doorbell rings. I open the door to find a girl with chocolaty curly hair whom I have never seen before, she takes hold of my hand with both her hands imploring me to help her. Suddenly I’m a superhero and she is a damsel in distress, and so I ask her what is wrong? And she sighing and almost sobbing tells me…
“Tells you what?” You ask.
Why do you care? It is not a story, it is supposed to be a review of Jacques the Fatalist.
“There is no book more innocent than a bad book”
Denis Diderot was a polymath. Philosophy, theatre, literature, science– he was involved in them all and his efforts during the enlightenment age earned praises from his contemporary Voltaire. He championed the cause of freedom of speech and that of Science, which wasn’t much liked by church. Like Voltaire, he was an atheist. This might lead you to believe that he wrote this ‘chronicle’ to satirize the protagonist but the very opposite is the case.
Well, talking about fatalism, it reminds of a woman… no, not the women with chocolaty curly hair though if it was a novel, that would definitely have been the case, but this is real life. The woman I’m now talking about, a friend, told me how this one time she was sitting in a casino and losing constantly when this guy in a black suit comes in, ‘very ugly to be honest but except for that very very charming’ – as she put it. And now she was about to leave having had nothing but bad luck that day but he somehow persuaded her to try again for number six and with all her money – and again and again, for three times and she won each time. Obviously happy, she was soon drinking with him asking him who he was and he told her ..
“And what did he say?” You ask again.
Again, always putting your nose in other people’s business, aren’t we? It is a review remember? Don’t distract me.
The image that springs up in one’s mind when one thinks of a fatalist is of someone who won’t make an effort to improve his or her life or fight against his or her troubles but Jacques is not like that. He is very active, clever and always trying to enjoy his life. His fatalism is more of a belief in determinism – he believes there is no free-will, everything shall happen according to ‘what is written on high’, but it doesn’t stop him from trying, taking necessary caution against dangers, putting on resistance etc.
Diderot himself didn’t believe that there is a God who has written something but he believed that everything that happens springs from a cause and that cause itself has a cause and so on. And so there is no free-will. He wanted to tell us how even someone believing in such fatalism won’t be too immoral or a defeatist.
But really I’m too excited to tell you about the story of that girl with chocolaty curly hair and so she tells me that she has a cockroach in the house and that I must …
But you are laughing. What did you expect? Dragons? Though if it was a novel, it would definitely have been something more sinister – dragons, vampires, zombies, aliens, ghosts etc. As it is I was even scared of cockroaches too and so…
“We would rather hear the end of casino girl story.”You say.
But I want to tell this one.
“But we want to hear that one or we will leave.” You say.
(Angrily) All right, I guess it is written on high. So the ugly guy is just about to tell her his story when he notices something wrong with his drink and tells her to wait a second as he leaves to complain about it.
Now you might have noticed above, I called it a chronicle instead of a …..
And now you are still pestering me to finish the story first.
But he has gone to complain, let him. Meanwhile, let me finish the review. Now you might have noticed…..
“But the story?”
Oh, grow up! Now you might have…
“Please. I know that ugly charming man is the devil. And 666 he wanted her to play and how he was sure she will win and…”
I will finish it in due time but we are here to review a novel.
You sit back, disappointed.
Now you might have noticed above, I called it a chronicle instead of a novel, and it is because our author keeps on reminding you of that. It involves references to a number of real people. And then Diderot, who doesn’t like novels as they have a number of convenient coincidences, keeps on interrupting the story to tell you how a novelist would have written it. There is a lot of meta-humor in there. And there are constant interruptions (from writer, reader – people like you, characters, fate etc.) and some unfinished stories – giving it a whole ‘If on a winter night’ feel. There is another similarity – the reader with his or her constant questions and demands that interrupt the story and annoy the author seems to have some sort of personality of his own.
Okay finished, to get on with the story, where were we?
“He had gone to complain about his drink.”
Yes, I remember. And our lady is waiting in desperation, she no longer wants to leave without knowing about him. She is one of those curious souls who must hear the end of everything … like you.
You mutter under your breath ‘now he is being sarcastic again’
Did you say something?
“Just that you are such a great storyteller.”
*flattered* Oh me! thanks. So as I was saying she is waiting and finally he comes back and still angry tells her how these waiters are no good. From his very long lament, our lady learns that he is the manager of the casino… see not a devil, though if it was a novel..
“Ya, ya, then it could easily have been devil. Go on.”
… and before long she guesses that he manipulated the game to make her win so that he could impress her and get her into bed. And she has lost her curiosity, she is no longer interested. She is about to leave… oh ! Wait I just remembered I must add something to review.
You just stare at me with furious eyes.
The central story itself is not much – it starts in middle and ends in the middle. The book begins when Jacques and his Master are on a journey from some unrevealed starting point to some unrevealed destination. In the end, they still haven’t reached the destination – kind of like ‘Waiting for Godot’ except that instead of waiting they are walking. And like Aesop from one of Jacques’ anecdotes and also like most of us living our life, they end up somewhere other than they planned.
With my references to ‘If on a Winter’s Night’ and ‘Waiting for Godot’, you can imagine how far ahead of its times the book was. It is also the funniest book I have read this year.
*furiously*”Are you done with your stupid review?”
“Then finish the story”
The one about girl with chocolaty, curly hair?
*patiently* “No one about ugly charming manager”
Okay, so my friend was about to leave when this manager tells her something due to which they are still together to date and she is still head over heels in love with him. (*Mutters under his breath* ‘and now I will have revenge for not being permitted to finish the chocolaty curly hair girl story.. oh! That girl’)
“What did you say?”
*still suspicious* “Go on.”
…. what he tells her is that how after his graduation, he … but wait, I just remembered that she had told me this story in confidence, I can’t give away her secret plus *quietly stands up and step backward, towards the door* it might affect their marriage. You don’t want that, do you? So I will have to take a leave. Bye.
August 2, 2016