Notes on Gide’s The Counterfeiters

Slowly I am making my way through André Gide’s amazing novel The Counterfeiters (Les Faux-monnayeurs, 1926). When I was in high school I read and enjoyed Gide’s The Immoralist on the strong recommendation of a sharp and very literary fellow barista named Crystal. But The Immoralist is a much more simple tale than the complex assembly of parts that is The Counterfeiters. You should read The Counterfeiters. Although it should be, it is not widely read today. This masterpiece of a fiction shows Gide in virtuosic control of his craft. Emotional depth, mystery, intrigue, scandal, plot complexity, economy of language, suspense, universality–all are there in abundance. And I am only a third of the way through the book’s 350 pages.

What’s amazing about the book? Like Michel Butor’s Degrees, Harry Mathews’s Cigarettes, and Joseph McElroy’s A Smuggler’s BibleThe Counterfeiters is an unconventional novel that takes as its subject matter variations in point-of-view among a set of closely knit protagonists. The effect that results is strongly realist, intersubjective, complex.

Variations in point-of-view among a small group of interrelated characters: sounds almost boring, though these variations aren’t, at least not in any of those above-mentioned texts. You get the shifting perspective in Dickens, I suppose, though I have hardly read any Dickens, in countless other texts from the 18th and 19th centuries that I have not read, and you get it in 20th century modernist and postmodernist works like Impossible Object by Nicholas Mosley, New Axis, or the ‘Little Ed’ Stories by Charles Newman, and Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. I ought to describe it better, perhaps later I will.

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