Pierre Noix is a Parisian antiques dealer. In spite of his occupation, he is preoccupied with the future and neglects the present. Always thinking of the next action or task, he takes no time to enjoy the simple or grand pleasures of life – be it a cigar, a lobster entrée or the act of sex.

He’s always in a mad rush and on the move, leaving others behind, literally and figuratively. Self-absorbed in his pursuit to do things as fast as possible, he has little regard for what someone else is thinking or doing. Which is why he has few friends. But Pierre is not unlikable and I find him rather pitiable.

He devises ways to cut seconds off activities that he deem a waste of time – e.g. washing and dressing oneself. And ends up making a comical and ridiculous sight of himself in his haste.

One fine day, Pierre’s life halts to a relative grind when he meets Hedwige, a languid and serene Creole beauty with whom he falls in love and marries. Will she keep up with his breakneck antics or will he compromise and slow down for the love of his life?

“Pierre is timid because his haste has caused many a failure alternating with huge successes. And the moral of the story shall be to show that the impatient man is punished more frequently than he is rewarded.”

While this novel was written in 1941, the story remains relevant today. It reminds us to not always be in a hurry and instead to stop and think or reflect.

Everything is faster today than two or three decades ago. It’s not just the way we get from one place to another, but also how we communicate with one another and the way we behave.

When I was a child and in my early teens, friends and family took time to write cards and letters and sent them in the post. Today, birthday and holiday wishes are posted on Facebook or sent via Whatsapp. Sure, we receive messages faster but are we putting less thought into composing them?

I enjoy reading a book while taking the train. Some people sleep, have a sandwich or chit chat. Others take selfies with their phones and post them on Instagram right away, but not before inserting many hashtags. Is it so important that we keep our network of family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues and even complete strangers updated on what we are doing? How about enjoying the beauty of the passing scenery or the company of those travelling with you?

I used to think that I was brilliant at multitasking. These days, I try to avoid doing more than one thing at a time as I concentrate better and accomplish the task with more clarity and consideration.

For instance, I used to type on the Blackberry without looking at the device while crossing the road. Now that I’m using a touchscreen phone, I can’t do type and talk/walk at the same time. Which I kind of like.

Friends tell me that I used to be on my Blackberry all the time, even when at meals. Good riddance to this bad habit, I say!

Doing things faster doesn’t mean doing them better. This is something that I have to remind myself of. The Man in a Hurry is a timely read as I’m almost snowed over at work and struggling to keep up with the emails that are hurtling at me.

The Man in a Hurry by Paul Morand was first published in French in 1941 as “L’homme pressé”. This has been translated from the French by Euan Cameron and is the first hardcover Pushkin Press Collection book. Kudos to Pushkin Press for introducing Morand’s work to a wider audience. And just as importantly, for putting such care into producing such beautiful books that are a pleasure to hold and read!

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9 replies on “Paul Morand: The Man in a Hurry

  1. We were encouraged to handle e mails only twice a day – once in the morning and once in the late afternoon. The thinking was that if something was really urgent someone would pick up the phone or drop by. The Pavlov reaction to the e mail ‘ping’ has to be broken!

    1. Sounds like a good idea to only handle emails twice a day. Though I don’t think my line of work would allow for it, especially with emails that require responses from groups of people 😦 The ‘ping’ sound is turned off on my computer. Nonetheless, I find the alert that pops up at the corner of the screen whenever a new email arrives to be quite insidious!

  2. I adore your book-review-slash-meditation, Angelina. You are so right that we’re giving up some of the enjoyment of life, in exchange for expediency! Thank you for this wonderful (and also timely, for me) reminder to slow down and savor the moment a bit.

  3. I keep discouraging people from using smartphones…those who havent made the shift yet…because the smartphone has taken over my life! Gotta reclaim it!

  4. As always I tuck your recommendation away for future reading. I too consciously only do one thing at a time. I always take a lunch break too which in NYC is very unusual. You cannot live in the moment and hurtle through it at the same time. In this city it’s a particular challenge to slow it down. Last week U2 played a spontaneous concert in an NYC subway and many people were in too much of a hurry to realize what they were passing!

    1. I eat at my desk 90% of the time and try to fiddle with emails in between mouthfuls of food. It’s a terrible habit and it doesn’t help that most people in my team do the same. Plus people at work seem to always plan conference calls between noon and 2pm!?! Now that it’s almost summer and much warmer outside, I plan to resume my mid-day lunch breaks in the gardens near the office. Just got to not forget to do so in the midst of the work. P.S. Too bad for those folks who missed U2 in action!

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