I have been reading this book for 30 years, give or take a few. it popped up as I was moving some other books around and I have never finished it. my bookmark sits at page 514 of 762. I remember where I bought it--rodger's book barn in craryville, new york--and for how much--a quarter--but not when, only a rough approximation that I started it in the winter of the late 70s.
every vagrant of my generation has a book he carries around from place to place to while away time in the event he's stuck somewhere a few hours, and he only reads it then. emma goldman used to say, "always carry a book, you never know when you'll be arrested." it's traveled around the country with me, not only when I was living in my car but years before, a hedge against boredom while waiting for my 1st wife while she was shopping or if I had to wait in line somewhere or was stuck in traffic or snowed in. I only read a few pages at a time without concern for stopping at chapters or pauses, which is a good thing since each of the 11 chapters is roughly 70-80 thin, narrowly-guttered, closely-printed pages. when I open to page 514 I am in the middle of an argument between henri and scriassine involving dubruilh, until scriassine leaves for an appointment. other than henri being the hero of the novel, a manque for jean-paul sartre, as I remember simone de beauvoir wrote the novel as a roman a clef about the french intellectual left during and after the resistance, I don't recall anything else of these characters. I could start the novel all over again from page 1 and not recognize a thing.
I think there is a reason we lose ourselves in such books. the back cover has long since disappeared and the front cover, as you can see, is nearly ready to join it. what you cannot see is the way it has taken on the worn soft feel of leather, the coffee stains and watermarks and bits of food and grass stuck between its pages, or the smell of ripe, disintegrating paper it gives off. that smell is unique to books, a mix of pulp and moisture and dust, and I swear I smell cinammon. I taped the cover back on after it fell off decades ago and the tape is now yellow and brittle under the cover where it hasn't lifted up completely. such books are old, ugly remnants of our past lives, reminders of what we have been through and that we did get through, frank, steady reproaches that, again, this too, whatever it is and however bad or good, shall pass. we are honored to be in their company.
de Beauvoir, Simone. Les Mandarins, published in Paris by Librairie Gallimard 1957. Paperback pocket edition, "Twelfth Impression March 1977." Fontana Books, "Made and printed in Great Britain by William Collins Sons & Co Ltd Glasgow." No ISBN.