Your Ticket is No Longer Valid by Romain Gary

In this respect we are rather backward in France; a certain lack of persistence and determination causes us to lose out in the race for pleasure. It’s different in the United States. There people band together, organize group therapy sessions, make pornographic films, found institutes and clinics, all dedicated to combatting the decline of the erection. America is the last true phallocracy. By comparison, we French are a sorry lot of quitters.”

When Emma announced a Romain Gary Month, this was the perfect excuse to read an author I’d been meaning to discover for years. The big question became which title to pick first, and after reading a synopsis of Your Ticket is No Longer Valid, all the other possibilities faded into the background.

This is the story of Jacques Rainier, a one-time resistance fighter and a wealthy businessman man facing his 60th birthday. When the book opens Rainier’s business is in jeopardy, but this is overshadowed by his worries about his flagging virility. The questions of erections, masculinity, and sexual potency are vital since his lover is 37 years younger. This novel was written pre-Viagra. Romain Gary would probably have had great fun adding Viagra to this novel if he’d had the chance.

your ticket is no longer validParts of the book are pure brilliance as Gary mercilessly explores this painfully embarrassing arena of male sexuality. How many times will Rainier be able to have sex with his Brazilian lover, Laura? Will he be able to sustain his erections? Will Laura be able to orgasm? All of these questions relentlessly plague Rainier, and so he finds himself somewhat reluctantly seeking help and advice from the medical profession. The advice he gets isn’t exactly what he wants to hear.

“Any trouble with urinating?”

“Not so far.”

“Do you get up in the middle of the night?’

“When I can’t sleep, yes, sometimes.”

“To pass water, I mean?”

“I hadn’t noticed.”

“Is it a powerful stream?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“When you pass water, is the stream strong, quick, in an arc, or does it come dripping feebly from the urethra in a thin thread, with interruptions, and does it require an effort to bring it back?”

“I hadn’t noticed. I seem to piss without any complications. I shall of course try to be more observant in future, but…”

Do you stain your shorts?”

I stared at him with my mouth open.

The novel opens with Rainier discussing and then meeting Jim Daley, “the heir to one of the greatest fortunes in the United States.” Daley, “larger than life” and according to a past casual sex encounter “there was no stopping him, he kept it up all night long,” is a bit of a bête noir for Rainier. Even at almost seventy, Daley still had a reputation as an “international playboy,”  but then gradually his “trophies” moved from women to “the realm of high finance.” Daley, firmly in his seventies, former lady killer, has now become somewhat pathetic. He claims to be the same age as Rainier and complains, rather distastefully that he’s “noticed” that women’s vaginas “suffered from the same internal deformity.” Finally, Daley admits, with no small amount of chagrin, that it’s not a universal vagina problem as much as his own shrinking erections. It’s a difficult meeting as Rainier has applied for a loan from Daley’s bank, and here’s Daley, at least 15 years older, pretending to be the same age and waiting for Rainier to exchange stories of his sexual failure.

There’s painful honesty here from a man who is facing old age while partnered with a young woman young enough to be his daughter (or even if we stretch it a bit, his granddaughter). He worries about their sex life, but there are also life stage issues which coalesce like ghosts around the bedroom. There are many clichés around these sorts of relationships, and I’m sure we’ve all known people in situations like Rainier. Do we envy them, laugh at them or feel a little sympathy? Would Laura even consider a man like Rainier if he weren’t stinking rich? Having a lover almost 40 years younger certainly puts an enormous amount of pressure on Rainier who admits that “it was only with Laura that I could see myself truly in decline.” As the book continues, Rainier’s worries grow to dark obsessions.

I had always assumed that aging was an orderly affair. There would be, it seemed to me, signs of incipient change, progressive seasons that would give one time to think, make one’s arrangements and manufacture one’s “wisdom.” Ideally, you simply came one day to regard your body with tolerant detachment, and turned to more appropriate interests–cruises, bridge, antiques.

While the novel is on one level merciless in its examination of the flagging male performance, the novel is still pure male fantasy of a 23 year-old beautiful woman deeply in love with a man almost 40 years her senior who is just so wonderful that she loves him for himself–age and $$$ are not part of the equation.  In spite of its vicious realities, the book still rests on that old tired Pygmalion Complex of the older man who offers experience and economic security in exchange for a parking spot next to a beautiful, nubile young woman who is a living, breathing male fantasy. Perhaps part of my reaction comes from knowing a couple of men, Rainier’s age, but not as wealthy, who’ve jettisoned off into relationships with women three or four decades younger. It hasn’t been pretty.

For this reader, by far the best parts of the novel were the scenes at doctors’ offices–especially the doctor Rainier terms “a fanatical defender of the prostate.” Here’s Rainier consulting the doctor about groin pain he’s experiencing.

“Yes, I see, well then, my friend, take it from me, when a woman says to you: ‘Not yet, not yet’ or ‘Wait for me,’ remember, don’t let her get away with it.”

“Get away with it?”

“Defend yourself. Let go, ejaculate. Our organs are designed to function normally, naturally, not to show off in performances–acrobatic, artistic, whatever you like. You should let yourself go, take your pleasure with a good conscience, and that’s that. Surely you know that there are castrating types, women who think the penis is some kind of automatic mechanism that you can use at will. You’ll never find a woman worrying about your prostate. Most of them haven’t the slightest idea what it’s all about. At your age, you should take it easy, set your own pace, don’t worry about your partner.”

The novel is at its best when Rainier is forced to acknowledge his insecurities and the realities of the less-than-smooth sex life of a 60-year-old man with flagging libido. Unfortunately, the novel reverses from its boldness and ultimately rests on clichés, and for this cynical reader, the novel just didn’t go far enough….

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13 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Gary Romain

13 responses to “Your Ticket is No Longer Valid by Romain Gary

  1. Thanks for participating to Romain Gary Literature Month. This is not one I’d suggest for a first Gary. You’re more a White Dog reader than a reader of this one.

    You surprise me, the parts you preferred are not the ones I thought you’d like most. He and Roth have something in common in this book. (I’m thinking about Exit Ghost)

    At the time Gary was writing this (and its hard not to see part of his relationship with Seberg in Jacques & Laura), he was also writing an Ajar, Life Before Us. So while critics were reading the novel about an ageing man and see Gary in it, he was leading them away from any trail he’d left between him and Ajar.

    Aren’t there any passages about the 1973 economic crisis? I remember it was part of the book too. I wonder about the translation or the English version. Is there a translator?
    I wonder if the book is complete or if Gary changed it for the American public. Like erased the interesting parts on the analysis of the French society.
    You don’t mention his style and I’m a bit surprised since its one of his strengths.

    To other readers: this is not the best Gary to start with. Good ones are Promise at Dawn, Life Before Us and White Dogs (non fiction)

    • I wondered where this fit in terms of his body of work, so thanks for the details. Also if I’d known that this had a Roth-like strain, I would have given this a pass.
      I like the style–just the romance was too much. I don’t remember any passages about the crisis or perhaps they just didn’t stick out.
      RE: Translation: Sophie Wilkins

  2. Brian Joseph

    That is a great quote that you opened this post with Guy.

    Some of the themes and situations examined here, lack of virility in a May/September Romance, the issues and problems inherent in the psyche of older men, the ghosts of the 1940s, remind me of some of Philip Roth’s novels.

  3. I ordered this not knowing exactly what it was about and then had to pass. I thought it sounded a bit Philip Roth in places. Really not my thing at all. I’m actually not surprised by your reaction. The topic as such sounded interesting but not combined with a “love story” between an older man and a much younger woman.
    There’s a movie of this btw.

  4. This sounds like another great Romain Gary novel. I recently read the amazing The Roots of Heaven and have a couple of other of his novels in mind to read next. I’ll consider adding this one to the list.

  5. Wonderful review, Guy! Sorry to know that you didn’t like your first Romain Gary. I hope you enjoy your next Gary book more. I read ‘Promise at Dawn’ recently and liked it very much. I found your comment on how the book depicts the Pygmalion Complex, quite interesting. I love the title of this book – ‘Your Ticket is No Longer Valid’ – but I don’t think I will be reading this one.

  6. Hm, I’m glad I didn’t pick this as my first Romain Gary. The subject matter is interesting, but the execution from the sound of it would trouble me as it did you.

    Have you ever read Junichiro Tanizaki’s Diary of a Mad Old Man? It’s pre-blog so I’ve no review to offer, but it’s an examination of a 90-odd year old’s sexual obsession with his carer, and the impact it has on its family. I liked it, though the old man is selfish as hell and really doesn’t much care how his behaviour impacts others.

    I’m still planning to start with Romain soon, but either Life Before Us or Promise at Dawn, both of which I have. Probably Life for the rather crude reason that it’s shorter.

    • Please follow my advice and start with Promise at Dawn. You won’t care it’s longer when you have started it.

    • No I haven’t read that Max–hadn’t even heard of it to be honest. so I’ll check it out.
      I have three other Gary novels here: Lady L, White Dog, and The Life Before Us. I should have read one of those first, but Your Ticket sounded so good.

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