Likely Stories: Clochemerle by Gabriel Chevallier

Aug 8, 2019

Hysterically funny French satire of life in a small village in France.


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Many of my graduate school studies were firmly grounded in the 19th century.  Clochemerle by Gabriel Chevallier—suggested by a good friend—recently came my way, and it proved to be a very funny story.

According to Wikipedia, Clochemerle is a French satirical novel, which was first published in 1934.  The book is set in a fictional French town called "Clochemerle", situated in the Beaujolais region.  The book is a comic work, satirizing the conflicts between Catholics and Republicans in the French Third Republic by telling the story of the installation of a fixture in Clochemerle's town square. 

The story begins with the mayor and the teacher of the school strolling through the town.  Chevallier writes, “His name was Barthélemy Piéchut.  He was the mayor of the town of Clochemerle, where he was the principal vinegrower, owning the best slopes with southwesterly aspect, those which produce the richest wines.  In addition to this, he was the president of the agricultural syndicate and a departmental Councilor, which made him an important personage over a district of several square miles, […].  He was commonly supposed to have other political aims not yet revealed.  People envied him, but his influential position was gratifying to the countryside.  On his head he wore only the peasant’s felt hat, tilted back, with the crown dented inwards and the wide brim trimmed with braid.  His hands clutched the inside of his waistcoat and his head was bent forward. This was his customary attitude when deciding difficult questions, and much impressed the inhabitants.  ‘He’s thinking hard, old Piéchut!’ they would say” (4). 

Chevallier continues, “His interlocutor, on the other hand, was a puny individual, whose age would be impossible to guess.  His goatee beard concealed a notably receding chin, while over an imposing cartilage serving as an armored protection for a pair of resonant tube which imparted a nasal intonation to all his remarks, he wore old-fashioned spectacles with un-plated frames, kept in place by a small chain attached to his ear.  Behind these glasses, which his short sight demanded, the glint of his sea-green eyes was the kind was the kind that denoted a mind given over to wild fancies and occupied in dreaming of the ways and means to an unattainable ideal. […] (He) was sucking at a very meager cigarette, richer in paper than tobacco, and clumsily rolled. […] To complete this portrait, it must be added that the schoolmaster’s fine maxims were spoiled by the quality of his breath, with the result that the people of Clochemerle fought shy of his wise utterances at too close a quarter.

The central item in this hilarious story revolves around the installation of a urinal in the center of the town.  Tempers run hot and, and another item adds to the merriment when a soldier, in love with a local young woman, suddenly appears.  As in many small towns, everyone knows everyone else’s  personal business.  Clochemerle by Gabriel Chevallier will afford the reader many hysterical moments.  5 stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!