Book review: The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco
“The Chairs” by Eugene Ionesco is a script and I read it as part of my ‘A play a week reading challenge‘. I read it in Danish, but will review it in English since it is an internationally known piece.
I will not go into detail about the surrounding contexts of the play when Ionesco wrote it, or even the author themselves. This book review will be just a review of the reading experience from a dramaturg’s point of view.
Let’s dive into it!
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Book review of The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco
As the version I read, was a Danish translation from before 1959, this might have influenced the experience in terms of vocabulary. The book I had acquired from an antique shop was still uncut so I had to use scissors to wrestle the pages apart. It was an absurd struggle to even get to read the play, which sets the mood for this absurd classic too.
The pair and the chairs
The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco centres an old couple. Not just elderly but old. They discuss an upcoming event. The man is about to give a revelation to a great amount of people, through a speaker they’ve talked into presenting this big revelation.
As the (invisible) guests start pouring in, first one or two and then more at a time, the couple need chairs for their guests. Mainly the old woman is in charge of bringing in chair after chair, for these guests. She goes through several doors to off-stage and brings in heaps of chairs.
The old couple are finally overcome by the amount of guests. So many in fact that they can hardly reach or hear each other across the room. (The room is empty though, apart from the chairs, due to the invisible guests). Assured that their guest-speaker will take care of announcing whatever needs to be announced, the couple then departs. (No spoilers, you’ll have to read it yourself).
Modern French absurd social commentary
As “The Chairs” is featured in my book (from 1959) on modern French drama, the introduction to Ionesco is made by someone more contemporary to the piece than myself. Which is always interesting, considering that I’m 61 years later to the game, than this book. A lot has changed in society since then. Ionesco has become quite well-known as a classic, within my geographical context.
I liked reading it, although it’s been a while since I’ve read something like it. So I had a feeling of trying to get into reading plays again, while also getting more familiar with the absurdity of the conversations being well… weird. The old couple get into their make-belief play of greeting invisible guests and then you get a hang of the ‘rules’.
I ended up also having a feeling of distorted realities within the play. It contributed to the fun, once I got into it. Who was really in the room and what could this invisibility also be? I had so many layers of interpretation popping up in my head and when I reached the final pages. I almost felt bad letting go of the story (and the old people).
Read “The Chairs” by Eugene Ionesco if…
You should read “The Chairs” by Eugene Ionesco if you’re involved with the performing arts. Seriously, it’s a classic and it’s weird but fun. Also, it’s got something extra to it, that makes for an interesting and slightly dystopian read. Especially considering our contemporary times.
If you want to do the 52 plays in a year challenge that I’m doing, this might be a good addition to the list. If you’re not used to reading scripts, I’d start out with something more familiar though. Like a story you know, so you’ll get used to the script format.