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The novel opens with our narrator living at the Villa Borghese with his friend Boris. The place is shockingly clean, but that doesn't prevent Boris from getting lice.
Boris is pretty much a downer and believes that the world is heading toward destruction anyway—so what's a little scratching when one is facing an apocalypse?
It is the fall of the narrator's second year in Paris, though he cannot for the life of him recall what brought him there in the first place. Though he hasn't a penny to his name, he is "the happiest man alive" (1.5).
He introduces his book by writing: "This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character" (1.6). He actually calls the novel a "song," explaining: "It is to you, Tania, that I am singing" (1.7).
He has lost track of time, which doesn't seem to concern him much—nor does his observation that "the world is dying" (1.8).
The narrator begins to introduce the reader to his other friends and companions in Paris. Borowski is a Jew who wears corduroy and plays the accordion. Most of his friends are Jewish, actually.
The narrator enjoys living at the Villa Borghese, but he regrets that there's not much to eat. He's too poor to go out for food.
Many of his friends want to be writers, but only Carl and Boris have talent. Just one problem: they're mad. Also, his friend Van Norden is "cunt-struck" (1.15) and Moldorf is just a drunk.
Our guy faces a mirror as he types long letters to Tania. He longs for her. Apparently, staring at Boris's face night after night is just not doing it for him. She seems to have run off with a chap named Sylvester, who does not do all sorts of nasty erotic things to her—unlike the narrator.
Irene is one of many women who expects fat letters from him. She sounds like a real piece of work.
Walking around Paris, he reflects on another woman, Llona, whose body he describes in explicit detail. You might want to check it out for yourself.
Let's take a closer look at Moldorf, a person of very mixed qualities. To the narrator, Moldorf "is God."
The narrator now launches into an inventory of Jewish qualities, such as suffering and neurosis, concluding that "For the Jew the world is a cage filled with wild beasts" (1.34).
The narrator has decided that he will not revise what he writes. He is only interested in writing. Note to Shmoopers: not a great strategy.
Anyway, it's time for him to move out, but he welcomes any disasters that will come his way.
Most of his friends live in Montparnasse among many other American expatriates.
He recalls a year ago, when he had first arrived in the city. He would wander around with a woman named Mona, a friend of Borowski, thinking about the crazy disorder of his life.
Yeah, there are a lot of women going on here.
Clearly this guy is a crazy party animal with a seriously foul mouth. He briefly recounts a night out with Mona and Borowski when he had some pretty wild sex in the vestibule of a dance hall. It all ended in failure, though, as he reports: "No matter how we try it it won't work" (1.51).
Mona has been away "a long time," but now she's returning to Paris. He goes to meet her at the Gare St. Lazare.
She is beautiful. He is in love. He is now willing to die. Sigh.
He sleeps with her that night in a cheap hotel. After a night of serious action, he wakes up in a bed swarming with bedbugs. How romantic.