Octave Parango, creative director of an advertising agency is a young winner. He has everything that one could wish for and more. He is part of a select set of people who decide what the public desires tomorrow. He writes “aphorisms that sell” for a living. But he feels empty inside. Embittered by the industry and its manipulations he decides to write a book that will reveal the dirty entrails of the advertising universe. It would be a book so bitter and damaging that the agency would be forced to fire him and he would make a packet big enough to sustain him for a lifetime. Thus starts 99 Francs (also published as 14,99 euro or 5,90 euro), Frédéric Beigbeder’s bitter, caustic, cynical and funny novel that cemented his reputation as the enfant-terrible of modern French literature.
The narrator takes us down a path to hell, filled with the usual suspects- sex, drugs and violence- in a style that would make Bret Easton Ellis or Michel Houellebecq proud. 99 Francs is a cruel and insolent pamphlet that acidly criticizes consumerist culture. In Beigbeder’s own words the novel describes “how millions are spent to awaken in the minds of people who can never afford it nor need it, the desire to own it.”
It’s the story of our society where consumerism is king, whose growth the author is aware of having contributed himself, by working for 10 odd years as an advertising executive. And of course, as life always imitates art, Young & Rubicam, the agency where Beigbeder worked, fired him as soon as the book was published.
However be warned that 99 Francs is not for the faint of heart. It trash talks, shocks, provokes and disgusts with ease. It’s vulgarity and it’s hedonism, which, Beigbeder’s characters eagerly embrace with no reluctance, can make even the sturdiest squirm a bit. But, that perhaps, is Beigbeder’s intention. To get a reaction out of the reader. To make us realize that we ourselves have created a monster who now dominates us and continues to nourish itself through our misplaced ambitions.
When the book ends with its set of advertising slogans loosely strung together, the lie stares at us point blank. And of course, Beigbeder ends it with the most provocative of all slogans. “Welcome to a Better World!”
99 Francs is available widely in translation. Needless to say they are best enjoyed in their original French. In case you would like to start reading French literature in French, you can always enroll yourself for an online French Course at Babel School of Languages 🙂 Just click on the contact us tab!