A novel where everything and nothing is said all at once without the slightest regard for conformity, How to Behave in a Crowd is both a hilarious and gloomy collection of pages.
Author Camille Bordas follows the life of a family in France over the course of a very short time during which a very lot happens. From realized dreams to actualized death, the Mazal family is lost in a tangle of happiness and despair, often without being able to distinguish between the two. Told from the perspective of the youngest of six siblings, Isidore, How to Behave in a Crowd is a novel about so much more than the words let on.
Told in a stark and rather dry tone, Isidore takes on the persona of someone who, despite what the title suggests, often does not know how to behave in a crowd. His thoughts are based in pure reason without much emotion, yet his actions, more often than not, take into account the people around him. He, unlike his brothers and sisters, is not a child prodigy working towards a first or second PhD after skipping years of schooling. Instead, Isidore is the odd one out. The one who infuses compassion into his encounters with others (unlike his siblings), the one who takes everything literally, including the advice given to him by homeless people who are clearly taking advantage of him.
Over the course of the novel, Isidore, sees people he loves achieve their dreams, lose their passion, and sometimes even die. Throughout his experiences, he is always looking at others, always trying to determine their thoughts, always trying to impress them without ever realizing that he has something to offer.
In the end, we can only infer what Isidore has learned from his experiences — as always he won’t really tell us what’s going on in his mind, or maybe he doesn’t know what’s going on beneath the literal thoughts that fill his head, but we know he’s learned something important. Bordas does a beautiful job of portraying the very real experiences of the human condition through the literal, though never static, view of Isidore.
Published by Tim Duggan Books in 2017, How to Behave in a Crowd is available for purchase at your local bookstore.
FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.