The Blue Flowers follows two unlikely characters: Cidrolin, who alternates between drinking and napping on a barge parked along the Seine in the 1960s, and the Duke d’Auge as he rages through history―about 700 years of it―refusing to crusade, clobbering his king with a cannon, and dabbling in alchemy.
When it came to the novel, Raymond Queneau imagined a kind that would advance along strict compositional lines, like poetry or architecture, yet upset all expectation. Take The Blue Flowers, published in 1973 and now happily reissued by New Directions ... Philosophy was seldom far from Queneau. In The Blue Flowers, which sometimes reads as a perversely static update on 'Candide,' history is the paramount theme.
The Blue Flowers is another dazzling jeu d'esprit; partly a philosophical booby-trap about appearance and reality, partly an extended pun on various aspects of French history, and partly a jazzed-up picaresque tale in which horses talk, medieval wenches sound like contemporary sluts, and the two heroes, the Duke d'Auge and Cidrolin, get their identities, among other things, thoroughly cluttered. Minor Queneau, but with enough rollicking merits, and somewhat special to begin with.
The Blue Flowers alternates between two men: Cidrolin, a fennel-quaffing layabout idling away on a barge moored on the Seine in 1960's Paris; and the Duke, a nobleman who professes his love for eating five-year old kids on a spit and his kinship with mass-murderer Gilles des Rais, dabbles in alchemy, fires cannons at kings, and seems untouched by the passage of centuries. Whenever one man falls asleep, the narrative immediately shifts to the POV of the other ... In an age where many modern writers strive for profundity in their themes and characters at the expense of formal invention, Queneau's works reminds us that style possesses its own kind of depth. Precision can be a gateway to enlightenment: instead of waiting for the muse to alight on his doorstep, Queneau built mazes and waited for inspiration to make a beeline for the cheese.