A/V Room









Windows on the World - Frédéric Beigbeder

Review by Jack Foley

"YOU know how it ends: everybody dies..."

So begins Frédéric Beigbeder's imagined account of what took place in the restaurant on the 107th Floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Needless to say, it's a profoundly moving affair - at times horrific, at others deeply moving, but never less than utterly compelling.

What's more, Beigbeder forces the reader to ask questions - not only of themselves but also of the world and the state it has been left in, post-9/11.

He does this, very cleverly, by dividing his book into two stories - his own and that of David Carthew, a divorced New Yorker who has fatefully chosen to spend the day of Septmber 11 with his two sons, taking them for breakfast at the Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 107th floor.

Each chapter takes the form of one minute spread over the course of the two hours it took from just before the first plane struck the first tower until the second tower collapsed (a time frame extending from 8.30am to 10.29am).

During the even-numbered chapters, Beigbeder writes about himself, offering insights into his own life and his personal reactions to 9/11.

The odd chapters, meanwhile, chronicle the attempts of Carthew and his two children to find a way out of the towering inferno, as they watch the atrocity unfold around them while mingling with the various guests and workers of the Windows on the World restaurant.

Throughout, the novel is littered with acute and highly pertinent observations - both from Beigbeder and from Carthew.

A chapter headed 9:23 begins with the telling line: "Terrorism does not destroy symbols, it hacks people of flesh and blood to pieces."

It is quickly followed by Carthew's observation: "The soles of my shoes were sticking to the floor like they had chewing gum on them: I think they were starting to melt."

Beigbeder, himself, notes at 9:28 that 'disasters have an upside: they make people want to live'.

While at 9:38 he opines: "What most worries America is that, on the one hand, they control the world; on the other hand, they're no longer in control of anything."

Barely a chapter goes by without sending the reader's head into a spin, forcing them to confront the terrifying image that has come to define the modern world - an image onto which millions project their fears, compassion, anger and incomprehension.

What was it really like to have been in New York that day? The 'beautiful carnage' may have looked like a scene from a mega-budget Hollywood blockbuster, but to concentrate on the imagery without remembering the suffering would be to betray the memory of the victims of that day.

Beigbeder certainly reinforces this message as he attempts to justify his reasons for writing the book, throwing in reference to the torn limbs and burning flesh, as well as the desperate acts of those who attempted to save themselves.

One chapter is given over entirely to an attempt by one businessman to make a parachute from a table-cloth, while another is filled with the thoughts of one of Carthew's young sons as he attempts to will his father to turn into a super-hero so that he might be able to save them.

Yet as depressing a read as this sounds, Windows on the World is an incredibly empowering affair.

It is littered with black humour, wry observations on the state of the world and genuinely makes the reader feel grateful for being alive.

As such, it makes for downright essential reading for just about everyone who remembers the events of 9/11 - forcing them to pay quiet respect, while resolving to make the most of their own existence.

If Beigbeder, himself, appears to lose his way by the end of the novel, it is a small price to pay for a book that offers so much for those brave enough to confront its issues.

It is among the most intelligent and provocative reads of the moment and one which still manages to find hope in the darkest of places.

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