Monday, June 02, 2008

New French biography: a challenging read

Bob Dylan: une biographie, the new French-language study by Francois Bon (Editions Albin Michel, 2007, 486pp, paperback, 22 euros) is a bit of a challenge.

Author Bon appears to set himself the task of understanding Dylan through his poetry. That – and the achingly beautiful design - had me opening my moth-eaten wallet.

But I soon began to harbour doubts. I was disappointed to realize that the title’s a bit misleading: the book only covers the first ten years of Dylan’s creative life.

My French is just about good enough to get through a book of this length, but I fear the struggle might not be worth it. I suspect that the book might be more about the author’s response than the subject’s art. And that it could turn out to be yet another absolutely avoidable analysis of the 1960s and 1970s: I wouldn’t waste time reading an English-language analysis of late 20thC society (or anything else) by a rock writer, so I’m hardly going to try reading such stuff in French.

Before embarking on a difficult read, I’d welcome the reaction of any Francophone reader to Bon’s strikingly handsome new book. I’m willing to make the effort, but would it be worthwhile? What does Bon add to our understanding of Dylan’s art?

Gerry Smith