Who knew that the author of Planet of the Apes (1963) was a Frenchman who was also author of The Bridge Over the River Kwai (1952)? Pierre Boulle (1912-1994) had a sense of the absurd which led him to depict men and apes changing places, and a British officer working for the enemy out of a mistaken sense of pride. So it is not surprising that he also wrote a collection of seven short stories entitled (in translation) Because It is Absurd (On Earth as in Heaven), published in 1971.
Reader and fellow blogger Judy sent me this volume because I’d posted a humorous take on Genesis recently. Boulle’s own treatment of Genesis examines what would have happened if Eve hadn’t eaten the apple. We might expect this means Paradise Eternal for Mankind, but in keeping with his sense of the absurd, Boulle maintains it would have been a disaster! Indeed, the Fall is necessary!
Sharing a similar sense of irony, in “His Last Battle,” Boulle shows us a man, whom I will call A.H. (so I do not attract the wrong kind of reader), who fled Germany after the Second World War. In the company of his old colleague M.B., he comes to grips with his greatest failure. Only it’s definitely not what you think!
These, along with “Interferences,” are the best of this collection. The others are lesser, lacking some of bite of those three. Still, there is a common theme running through all these stories. As Boulle sees it, the morality and value of intentions do not guarantee commensurate moral and valuable results. Sometimes this should lead us to question our values and our reasoning. But at other times, as in “The Heart and the Galaxy,” all we can do is laugh.
It’s a pity Because It is Absurd is out of print, because it’s a book that can make you think. And laugh. I’m now rather tempted to go track down his more famous novels and read them, instead of relying on the films made of them. I want to see how deep Boulle’s sense of the absurd runs.