Man at His Best

Frédéric Beigbeder Revisits JD Salinger's Infamous Love Triangle

With befitting illustrations by Rafael Alterio.

BY Kristiano Ang | Jan 30, 2017 | Books

Inside Frédéric Beigbede's Manhattan's Babe with illustrations by Rafael Alterio. Photographs from Assouline.


Before he became America’s best-known recluse, JD Salinger was a Stork Club habitué in love with Oona O’Neill, the debutante daughter of the Nobel-prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill. That is, until Oona, who was 18, married Charlie Chaplin, who was 54, while Salinger was training to fight in World War II—an episode that inspired the illustrated novel Manhattan’s Babe (Assouline, SGD50*), by France’s favourite postmodern manchild, Frédéric Beigbeder.

Beigbeder is the author of 13 books—including A French Novel, about a certain enfant terrible in jail for possession of cocaine— as well as the editorial director of Lui, a magazine in the mould of early Playboy

For his documentary Catching Salinger, he dragged a film crew to his idol’s New Hampshire home, only to discover that he was “a coward who did not want to disturb the old man,” Beigbeder says. He chose to channel the old man instead, capturing café society as masterfully as he does the awkwardness of fledgeling love in this elegant mash note to ’40s New York. But he was troubled by ominous parallels to the present.

“The Stork Club was the Titanic in New York, a sinking ship with glamorous people not knowing war was coming,” he says. “It’s not that different from our situation.”

*Denotes translated price. From Esquire Singapore's February 2017 issue