Authors: Boris Vian
was born at Ville d'Avray in 1920. A novelist, poet, dramatist, writer of popular songs, jazz critic, singer and trumpeter, Paris liaison for Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, friend of Jean-Paul Sartre and Raymond Queneau and French translator of Raymond Chandler, Vian trained as an engineer and worked for a pulp and paper-making corporation until 1947. In the decade and a half before his untimely death in 1959 at the age of thirty-nine, Vian's extraordinary creative output included ten novels, four short fiction collections, seven plays, three books of poetry, several translations and a number of popular songs, including anti-war anthem âLe dÃ©serteur', banned by the French censors and sung by Joan Baez during the Vietnam War. Vian died from a heart attack at a screening of the film adaptation of his pulp noir novel
I Spit on Your Graves
. Half a century after his death, his most celebrated and loved novel
L'Ãcume des jours
(originally published in English as
Froth on the Daydream
) has been adapted for the screen by acclaimed director Michel Gondry, released in English under the title
Translated from the French by Stanley Chapman
A complete catalogue record for this book can be obtained from the British Library on request
The right of Boris Vian to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
L'Ecume des jours
de Boris Vian
Â© SNE Pauvert, 1979, 1996 et 1998; Â© Librairie ArthÃ¨me Fayard, 1999,
pour l'Ã©dition en Åuvres completes
Translation copyright Â© Stanley Chapman 1967, this edition 1970
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, dead or alive, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.
First published as
L'Ecume des Jours
in 1947 by Gallimard, Paris
First published in this translation as
Froth on the Daydream
by Rapp & Carroll, London
Revised and reprinted by Penguin Books in 1970
First published in this edition in 2013 by Serpent's Tail,
an imprint of Profile Books Ltd
3A Exmouth House
London EC1R 0JH
ISBN 978 1 84668 944 4
eISBN 978 1 84765 969 9
Export ISBN 978 1 84668 977 2
Designed and typeset by MacGuru Ltd
Printed by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon CR0 4YY
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
For My Bibi
The main thing in life is to leap to every possible conclusion on every possible occasion. For the fact is that individuals are always right â and the masses always wrong. But we should be careful not to attempt to base any rules for behaviour on this â there is no need for rules to be written down before we follow them. Only two things really matter â there's love, every kind of love, with every kind of pretty girl; and there's the music of Duke Ellington, or traditional jazz. Everything else can go, because all the rest is ugly â and the few pages which follow as an illustration of this draw their entire strength from the fact that the story is completely true since I made it up from beginning to end. Its material realization â to use the correct expression â consists basically of a projection of reality, under favourable circumstances, on to an irregularly tilting, and consequently distorting, plane of reference. Obviously it is a method, if there ever was one, that can be readily divulged.
10 March 1946
Colin finished his bath. He got out and wrapped himself in a thick woolly towel with his legs coming out at the bottom and his top coming out at the top. He took the oil from the glass shelf and sprayed its pulverized perfume on to his yellow hair. His golden comb separated the silky mop into long honeyed strands like the furrows that a happy farmer ploughs through apricot jam with his fork. Colin put back his comb and, seizing the nail-clippers, bevelled the corners of his eggshell eyelids to add a touch of mystery to his appearance. He often had to do this because they grew again so quickly. He put on the little light over the magnifying mirror and went up close to it to examine the condition of his epidermis. A few blackheads were sprouting at the sides of his nose near his nostrils. When they saw themselves in the magnifying mirror and realized how ugly they were, they immediately jumped back under the skin. Colin put out the light and sighed with relief. He took the towel from his middle and slipped a corner of it between his toes to dry away the last signs of dampness. In the glass it became perfectly clear that he was exactly like a fair-headed Jean Bellpull Rondeau in a film by Jacques Goon Luddard. His face was smooth, his ears small, his nose straight and his complexion radiant. He was always smiling, as innocently as a baby, and through having done it so often a dimple had grown into his chin. He was reasonably tall and slim-hipped; he had long legs and was very, very nice. The name Colin suited him almost ideally.
He talked to girls with charm and to boys with pleasure. He was nearly always in a good mood â and the rest of the time he slept.
He emptied his bath by boring a hole in the bottom of the tub. The light yellow ceramic clay tiles of the bathroom floor sloped in such a way that the water was orientated into an orifice situated directly above the study of the tenant in the flat below. But only a few days previously, without saying a word to Colin, the position of the study had been changed. Now the water went straight into the larder underneath.
He slipped his feet into sandals made from the skins of spotted dogfish, and put on an elegant staying-in suit â trousers of deep Atlantic-green corduroy and a jacket of walnut-brown wild taffeta. He hung the towel on the towel-rail and put the bathmat on the edge of the bath. Then he sprinkled it with rock salt to bring out any water that might still be in it. The mat was soon covered in juicy clusters of little soapy bubbles.
He came out of the bathroom and went to the kitchen to cast an eye over the last touches that were being put to the meal. Chick was coming for dinner as he did every Monday evening. He lived just round the corner. It was still only Saturday, but Colin felt he wanted to see Chick and let him sample the menu that his new cook Nicholas had been working on with such joyful serenity. Chick, a bachelor too, was the same age as Colin â twenty-two. He had the same tastes in literature â but less money. Colin's fortune was large enough for him to live in comfort without having to work for other people. But Chick had to go to see his uncle at the Ministry once a week and borrow money from him because he did not earn enough at his job as an engineer
to be able to keep up with the workers he was in charge of â and it's hard to be in charge of people who are better dressed and better fed than you are. Colin helped him as much as he could and asked him round to dinner as often as he dared, but Chick's pride forced Colin to be careful and not make it obvious that he was trying to help him by doing favours too frequently.
The corridor leading to the kitchen was light because it had windows on both sides of it, and a sun shining behind each of them because Colin was fond of bright things. There were metal taps, brilliantly polished and gleaming, all over the place. The suns playing on the taps produced fairylike effects. The kitchen mice liked to dance to the sounds made by the rays of the suns as they bounced off the taps, and then run after the little bubbles that the rays burst into when they hit the ground like sprays of golden mercury. Colin stroked one of the mice as he went by. It was sleek and grey, with a miraculous sheen and long black whiskers. The cook gave them plenty to eat, but made sure that they did not get too fat. The mice kept very quiet during the day and played nowhere else but in the corridor.
Colin pushed open the gleaming kitchen door. Nicholas, the cook, was studying his control-panel. He was sitting at a no less gleaming bright yellow desk covered in dials corresponding to every piece of culinary apparatus that lined the walls. The hand for the electric cooker, set for the roast turkey, hovered between âAlmost Ready' and âPerfectly Done'. It was nearly time to take it out. Nicholas pressed a green button which released the testing needle. It slipped in, met no resistance at all, and the hand immediately shot to âPerfectly Done'. Nicholas clicked off the current to the cooker and switched on the plate-warmer.
âIs it going to be good?' asked Colin.
âMr Colin can be assured that it is, sir!' confirmed Nicholas. âThe turkey is done to a turn.'
âAnd what have we got to start with?'
âGood Lord,' said Nicholas, âI didn't like to create anything original so soon, sir. I've stuck to plagiarizing ffroydde.'
âYou could have chosen a worse master!' remarked Colin. âAnd which masterpiece from his complete works are you going to reproduce?'
âI found it on page 638 of his
Cookery and Household Management
. I'll read Mr Colin the passage in question, sir.'
Colin sat on a stool upholstered in dunlopillo and oiled silk, the same colour as the walls, as Nicholas began to read.
âFirst line a dish with light puff pastry. Then slice a large eel into sections about an inch thick. Place these in a saucepan and cover with white wine to which has been added a sliced onion, some chopped parsley, a sprig of thyme, a bailiff's bay leaf, a four-leaved clove-hitch of garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper â¦ I couldn't pinch as much salt and pepper as I'd have liked, sir,' said Nicholas. âThe jemmy is wearing out.'
âI'll get you a new one,' said Colin.
Nicholas went on reading. âSimmer slowly. Take the eel from the pan and put under the grill. Pass the remaining liquor through butter muslin and reduce until it begins to adhere to the spoon. Sieve once again, pour over the eel and cook for two more minutes. Arrange the eel in the puff pastry with a border of grilled mushrooms. Decorate the centre with soft carp's roes. Garnish with the rest of the sauce that you have kept back.'
âSounds delicious,' nodded Colin. âI think Chick ought to enjoy that.'
âI haven't had the pleasure of meeting Mr Chick yet, sir,' concluded Nicholas, âbut if he doesn't like it, then I'll make something different next time and that will help me to plot more accurately an approximate graph of his likes and dislikes.'
âHrumm â¦!' said Colin. âI'll let you get on with it, Nicholas. I'll be laying the table.'
He went back through the corridor in the other direction, crossed the hall and ended up in the dining-room-cum-studio, whose pale blue carpet and pink beige walls were a treat for sore eyes.