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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


A Life Without End

Frédéric Beigbeder

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To purchase A Life Without End

Title: A Life Without End
Author: Frédéric Beigbeder
Genre: Novel
Written: 2018 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 297 pages
Original in: French
Availability: A Life Without End - US
A Life Without End - UK
A Life Without End - Canada
Une vie sans fin - Canada
Une vie sans fin - France
Endlos leben - Deutschland
Una vita senza fine - Italia
Una vida sin fin - España
  • French title: Une vie sans fin
  • Translated by Frank Wynne

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a rollercoaster of a read, both as far as subject-matter and presentation go, but it works

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 24/4/2020 Boyd Tonkin
Le Monde . 8/2/2018 Cécile Dutheil
NZZ B 10/1/2019 Rainer Moritz

  From the Reviews:
  • "A Life Without End pivots entirely on its voice -- smart-ass, wisecracking, yet shaded by pathos and sentiment. As translator, the ever-excellent Frank Wynne catches all this motormouth ebullience and solipsistic charm. (...) Along the way, though, the fun, and the gags, never go extinct." - Boyd Tonkin, Financial Times

  • "Es ist Beigbeders grosse Kunst, diese intensiven Gespräche so zu dokumentieren, dass hochkomplexe Sachverhalte für Nichtfachleute nachvollziehbar werden und man -- fasziniert und schockiert -- erkennt, wie weit die Diskurse über gentechnisch veränderte Menschen, biologische 3-D-Drucker oder Zellverjüngung bereits gediehen sind. Eingebettet sind diese Laborgespräche in eine Handlung, die im Grunde keine ist. (...) Als Roman ist dieses Buch von geringem Belang, als witziger Erfahrungsbericht eines neugierigen Autors und als Informationsquelle über den Stand der Wissenschaft weist er einigen Reiz auf." - Rainer Moritz, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Life Without End, written in the first person, is only very loosely a novel, with Frédéric Beigbeder very much playing himself in it. The title describes what he's looking for: having passed the half-century mark, age-wise, he's decided he really would prefer not to die and explores what might be done to facilitate that. Sticking quite closely to the autobiographical for most of the novel -- with a whirlwind romance leading to his third marriage and, in quick order, second child (arriving so quickly he hadn't even moved in with the new wife yet), a major life-change that makes him even more reflective -- real places and authorities (as well as some celebrities) fill this personal quest-tour of the frontiers of modern medicine (and futuristic quackery).
       As he explains:

     Let's be clear: I do not hate death; I hate my death. If the vast majority of humankind accept that it is inexorable, that's their problem. Personally, I see no advantage to dying. In fact, I'd go so far as to say, Death stops with me. This tale is an account of my efforts to stop foolishly dying like everyone else.
       Beigbeder is a celebrity in France, and he takes considerable pleasure in being a somebody, a recognized figure that people (at least French people) want to take a 'selfie' with. He believes that part of the human condition is that: "We are desperate for recognition" -- and that not only identity but our very being is defined by it:
     There are times when the only way to confirm that I am still alive is to check Facebook to see how many people have liked my most recent post. More than 100,000 likes and I sometimes get a hard-on.
       This complete self-absorption explains his approach here, the very definition of lazy-man's fiction, an I-novel completely consumed by the I, with only a sprinkling of fictional embellishment. It also suggests that the question and quest isn't as straightforward as he wants to make it out to be: eternal life isn't so much to continue to enjoy the pleasure of living and the company of loved ones, it is about sheer survival. Recognizing that celebrity is both vacuous and fleeting, and that his work will quickly be forgotten, he clings to biological survival as the one last means to still matter in the future.
       The saving grace here is that Beigbeder is self-aware enough to understand this, and to understand that what he's doing has more than a whiff of the ridiculous to it; fortunately, in the end, he doesn't take himself or his quest too seriously -- though the balance he finds here also unbalances the book: after all, part of him does mean it very seriously, and his various stations are, in fact, at the forefront of scientific ambitions to counter, in various ways, aging. He engages with some of the leading lights in the field, but accepts that the science is largely beyond him -- and instead falls back on the comic; typically:
I was having a hard time taking [Professor Buganim] seriously, since his Israeli accent reminded me of Adam Sandler in You Don't Mess with the Zohan, the best comedy about Israel I've seen. To avoid bursting out laughing in such a situation, it was essential for me to ignore his accent and focus on the fact that, in twenty years working in television, I had never been awarded a prize by Science.
       Of course, age has something to do with Beigbeder's new preöccupation too: he's fifty, and he's feeling it. Gone is the youthful feeling of indestructability, and the ability to do -- and consume -- anything, as his body begins to show a clear decline; his ailing parents serve as an even greater warning sign of the frailty of the human body. And Beigbeder adds more to the mix by not only marrying again, but becoming a father again at his advanced age, which gives him a whole new perspective and set of concerns ("I had two daughters. Now I long for a future").
       And, while he doesn't fully embrace religion, he finds his former atheism not cutting it any longer, and is drawn back to the idea of a god -- though the theological doesn't creep too much into his musings about immortality.
       It's his older child, ten-year-old Romy, who accompanies him on most of his expeditions -- providing also always an easy excuse to escape everything from the seriousness of the subject-matter to the blandness of some of the food, and also to keep most of these encounters short and to the point. New wife Léonore and baby Lou are along for the ride some of the time, but Léonore isn't completely on board with Beigbeder's obsession -- "a life without end would be a life without purpose", she argues. A fifth wheel that then comes along -- dragged or shipped from place to place -- is the SoftBank Pepper-robot that Beigbeder purchases (whose brand-name they don't bother changing), an amusing and increasingly involved-in-the-action sideshow whom Romy, in particular, bonds with.
       Beigbeder's tour takes him to various experts -- doctors such as local star Frédéric Saldmann, or scientists such as Yossi Buganim in Israel and George Church in Boston. He goes for the treatment -- getting his blood lasered -- at VIVAMAYR Maria Wörth (where he is asked to leave because of Pepper's misbehavior) and visits operations such as Cellectis and Health Nucleus in his search for immortality.
       The whirlwind tour of medical advances, areas that are being explored, and more extreme ideas -- variations on, essentially, uploading mind or being in digital form -- are all covered, and it makes for a decent overview of the state of the art, and its potential. Beigbeder's brisk narrative style -- easily distracted, not taking himself very seriously, seeing (and sometimes forcing) the humor in these various situations -- makes for a fast, packed (but not dense) read. Romy -- a child -- and Pepper -- a communicative but logical being -- serve as useful foils and excuses (they are also clearly the more fictionally-embellished part of the account) -- while the more human Léonore, love-object and mother-figure, is predictably sidelined more often than not.
       The narrative is repeatedly interrupted by fairly clever and entertaining comparative side-by-side lists -- beginning with a look at the pro and contra regarding death itself, and including comparisons of life at thirty and at fifty, humans and robots, and human versus posthuman; there's also a list of those who died too young versus those who died too old. These serve to break up Beigbeder's barreling-ahead narrative, a useful change-of-pace.
       Eager to please and to entertain, Beigbeder is a good showman -- a pro. The novel moves ahead single-mindedly, but Beigbeder peppers it with off-beat asides and rarely delves too deeply into anything; this is a novel in the form of a talk-show-master's riff-heavy monologue.
       Occasionally he tries too hard and promises too much:
I think that the interview I've transcribed below is the most important of my journalistic career, and -- excuse the hyperbole -- probably the most important in your life as a reader. A few pages from now you will not be the same person.
       But mostly his musings are quite amusing, with Beigbeder acknowledging the implications of much that he learns and is exposed to, but also showing a healthy sense of skepticism; he pretends to take much of it seriously, but his lack of follow through suggests otherwise; so also, only in the completely fictional final part does he go full-follow-through, in what amounts to a fantasy (more or less) ending (wanting to have his cake and eat it, there is also a back-down-to-earth epilogue).
       And, yes, Beigbeder is full of himself -- but he's self-aware enough to have some decent fun with that in his writing. (One suspects, however, that some readers will find him simply too annoying).
       Ultimately, the novel does really turn to the fictional, not quite going off the rails but events coming quick and fast and futuristically; the sheer speed and the extremes to which he goes with the narrative in bringing it to its conclusion are fitting; ultimately, A Life Without End kind of does work as a very peculiarly formed novel.
       A Life Without End is, appropriately enough, a lively wallow. Death may be a dark subject, but Beigbeder's semi-fiction is almost relentlessly upbeat and cheerful, the author aware of the absurdity of his ambition and undertaking, but clearly also well-practiced in faking it for an audience and putting on a good show, which he does.
       A Life Without End is a success, on its own level and terms -- not necessarily a *good* novel (indeed, a mess, in many ways), but hard to resist and easy to swallow.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 April 2020

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A Life Without End: Reviews: Frédéric Beigbeder:
  • le S.N.O.B. - le Site Non Officiel de Frédéric Beigbeder
Other books by Frédéric Beigbeder under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Frédéric Beigbeder was born in 1965.

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© 2020 the complete review

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