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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Jean-Philippe Toussaint

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To purchase Naked

Title: Naked
Author: Jean-Philippe Toussaint
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 124 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Naked - US
Naked - UK
Naked - Canada
Nue - Canada
Nue - France
Nackt - Deutschland
  • French title: Nue
  • Translated by Edward Gauvin

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Our Assessment:

B+ : lovely scenes from around a love-affair

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Figaro . 18/9/2013 Patrick Grainville
NZZ . 9/12/2014 Claudia Mäder
TLS . 3/1/2014 Adrian Tahourdin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Toussaint confiseur proustien, cela s'enrichit ! (...) Ce qui est intéressant chez Toussaint, c'est qu'il ne se confine pas, comme certains de ses collègues, dans la bulle protectrice et dorée du second degré, de l'évitement phobique et de l'ironie française." - Patrick Grainville, Le Figaro

  • "Toussaint, ein Belgier in der Tradition des Nouveau Roman, bietet weder Handlungsbögen noch Erklärungen, sondern erzählt in einzelnen, präzis bis ins letzte Detail beschriebenen und von langen, adjektivreichen Sätzen grundierten Bildern. Ohne die Leser mit Psychologisierungen zu belasten, bilden diese Szenen das Material, auf dessen Basis der eigene Kopf den elliptischen Text ergänzen und sich also eine originale Vorstellung machen kann von Marie, der Modeschöpferin, die mit (leeren) Papageienkäfigen zu reisen und «nackt auf der Oberfläche der Welt entlang zu spazieren» pflegt, und dem Mann, von dem man nicht einmal den Beruf kennt und doch alles weiss, weil er dauernd um diese Frau kreist." - Claudia Mäder, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Beautifully written, they are visceral in their dissection of a failing relationship. While we may have long ago drawn many of the same conclusions about Marie as the narrator: “I knew … that Marie was exasperating … that she was superficial, lightweight, frivolous and carefree (and that she never closed drawers)”, it's part of Toussaint's skill as a writer that we still want to read about her. It will be fascinating to see what he does next." - Adrian Tahourdin, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Naked is the fourth of Jean-Philippe Toussaint's novels in which an unnamed narrator writes about his obsession with artist (of the most haute of haute couture) Marie -- Marie Madeleine Marguerite de Montalte. This quartet, that also includes Making Love, Running Away, and The Truth about Marie, is unusual in its overlap of stories, as Toussaint revisits specific times from the narrator's (generally frustrated) relationship with Marie and fills in blanks or adds new details -- as here, for example, where some of the action takes place at a museum in Tokyo which the narrator had previously visited, a day before, in Making Love. Clearly, the four novels make for a larger, obviously interconnected work -- yet the novels can stand and be enjoyed on their own as well.
       In Naked the narrator focuses on a limited number of scenes, of Marie and him together (or at least in some proximity to another ...) and apart, in Paris, Tokyo, and Elba. In Tokyo he spies on the opening of an exhibit of her work at the museum where her work is being presented -- "Crouched on the roof, bent over the porthole", in perfect voyeur-pose. Here he is at a distance, but Marie also draws him back into her orbit, having him join her on a trip to Elba (where Marie's father spent the last years of his life), to attend a funeral.
       Toussaint presents a few set pieces beautifully, from the brief horror of a slept-in bed to a long description of one of Marie's most ambitious creations, essentially outfitting one of her runway models in a dress of pure honey, the highlight of her show. In Elba, a fine-chocolate factory has gone up in flames, still smoldering when they arrive.
       Behind it all there is still more -- as the narrator long senses, but can't quite figure out:

I leaned over and, gently, to soothe her, asked her what was going on. What's the matter, Marie ? I whispered, what's wrong ? What's wrong she said, looking up at me, can't you tell ?
       He can't, but her reveal certainly adds another (and unexpected) dimension to their complicated relationship.
       From the efforts of one of his rivals to sweep Marie off her feet, witnessed at a distance (and involving a slight miscalculation on the part of the rival) to the dress of honey, Toussaint comes close to whimsy in some of his scenes, and certainly there's a great deal of gentle humor here. There's also a surprising amount of menace, from the dubious Giuseppe, who picks them up in Elba, to the violation of a slept-in bed -- or a wrong-way runway slip. Toussaint balances humor and menace nicely, as also in the reminder of his museum-visit the day before -- perhaps familiar from Making Love, but a jarring reminder even for those who remember those events.
       This isn't a novel with a simple story-arc, traced simply from a beginning to an end. The relationship with Marie, more off than on, with the narrator always captivated by the flighty figure, similarly doesn't have a neat beginning and end, and the story easily is spread out over three other novels, too, making for a richer picture, but not, ultimately, a complete one.
       This is a lovely novel, even if it doesn't necessarily offer the satisfactions of a fully-formed story -- and yet Toussaint rounds it off satisfyingly too, But even in this simple, almost conventional end, of protagonists finding each other, it closes on with a question, making any finality deceptive: Marie seems to ask the obvious -- yet her need to ask, and her surprise, suggest she still hasn't entirely understood, all along.
       A very nice piece of work, both together with the others Marie-novels, and on its own.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 October 2016

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Naked: Reviews: Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Other books by Jean-Philippe Toussaint under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Jean-Philippe Toussaint was born in Brussels in 1957.

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