This is another of those books I enjoyed the first three-quarters of,
and from then on until the last page found it a terrible struggle of the will to complete. It reminded me strongly in this respect of the Juan Goytisolo novel I read a few months ago: an interesting situation is described –
here, de Saint-Exupéry (or the narrator, I cannot now recall) is sent on a semi-suicidal reconnaissance mission as the Germans invade France during
the Second World War: the narrative describes his thoughts, both about the mission and about the fate of France (defeated from the start, in the
narrator’s view – or even before); – these sections are well-told, with a nice balance between story and philosophical reflection; but as we come
towards the end (and, sadly, the mission itself ends some forty pages before the book), the tenor of the work changes, and becomes instead a long
philosophical monologue about Man – not without interest ultimately, but so hard-going in comparison to the rest of the work, so abstract all of a
sudden, that I’d soon lost interest and was almost inclined to cast it aside.
It makes me wonder, though, whether it is a good thing that
writers don’t (or can’t) sufficiently distance themselves from what they write. Both novelists – Goytisolo and de Saint-Exupéry – turn to
philosophical speculation seemingly because they are so involved in the matter of their story: – for Goytisolo, it’s the death of his wife which he
seeks to come to terms with; for de Saint-Exupéry, it is the defeat of France and the problem of what the human race has descended to (the novel was
written in 1942). It is clear these things mean a lot to these writers, and that they have given much thought to the causes: – and it is thus perhaps
that they have come to feel that the vaguely-philosophical narratives with which their works began are not enough; that they must give up these
narratives and turn merely to abstract speculation. There is a sense, I feel, about them both, that narrative is in a sense too trivial.