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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Running Away

Jean-Philippe Toussaint

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To purchase Running Away

Title: Running Away
Author: Jean-Philippe Toussaint
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 192 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Running Away - US
Running Away - UK
Running Away - Canada
Fuir - Canada
Running Away - India
Fuir - France
Fliehen - Deutschland
Fuggire - Italia
  • French title: Fuir
  • Translated by Matthew B. Smith
  • Awarded the Prix Médicis, 2005

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Our Assessment:

A- : stylish, atmospheric

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FASz . 18/2/2007 Julia Encke
L'Humanité . 1/9/2005 Jean-Claude Lebrun
The Independent . 4/12/2009 Lee Rourke
London Rev. of Books . 11/2/2010 Tom McCarthy
NZZ . 3/4/2007 Martin Krumbholz
The NY Times Book Rev. . 27/12/2009 Christopher Byrd
TLS . 2/12/2005 Adrian Tahourdin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Natürlich würde man den belgischen Autor, der lange in Paris, in Algerien und auch in Berlin gelebt hat, unterschätzen, wollte man seine Romane als bloße Liebesgeschichten lesen. Denn was hier erzählt wird, verschwindet hinter dem Wie." - Julia Encke, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung

  • "Quelques dizaines d’heures suffisent ŕ une cascade d’aventures, dans une apparente alliance de désinvolture et de sophistication. D’un côté, l’on plonge à plein dans le feuilleton, les scènes d’action s’empilent, la vraisemblance semble sujette à caution.De l’autre, l’on se trouve projeté dans le plus moderne de la littérature. (...) Une compléte réussite d’écriture" - Jean-Claude Lebrun, L'Humanité

  • "A novel of dizzying movement ensues. Ostensibly set in the summer, much of this takes place at night, where everyone seems to be in a state of "perpetual jetlag". (...) This is Toussaint's darkest novel yet, one in which everything seems to be heading towards the blackest night imaginable. Yet even this looming presence of death is made to feel somehow exhilarating. It is further testament to Toussaint's standing as a master craftsman of the contemporary novel that he can give such shifting insouciance its weight." - Lee Rourke, The Independent

  • "Schliesslich haben wir es mit einem hocherotischen Roman zu tun ! Und mit einem Meisterwerk voller Anmut, Melancholie und Schönheit." - Martin Krumbholz, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Like an interior decorator who ignores a party to finger the drapes, Running Away is more engrossed in its backdrops than in its characters. (...) While such contrivances may irk readers who look to novels for believable characters, they shouldn’t bother those who place a premium on elegance and artistry. Indeed, one might find in Toussaint’s truncations an admirable rebellion against a world that’s submerged in too much information and too little beauty." - Christopher Byrd, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Toussaint convincingly portrays Marie as torn apart by grief and anger. And yet the ending he provides is surprisingly uplifting. Toussaint's prose is a pleasure to read: precise and increasingly muscular. There is a mesmerizing quality to his attention to detail (...) that marks him out as a successor to those other Minuit authors, the practitioners of the nouveau roman. But his is also a distinctive and original voice in French fiction." - 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:

       Fuir (now available in English as Running Away) features another of Toussaint's somewhat aimless heroes, allowing himself to be tossed by events rather than trying to exert much control over his own life. It begins with the narrator travelling to China. It's more for pleasure than business, he says, but he doesn't come with any clear plans of how to while away his time -- and he does have a specific errand to run, for the girlfriend he will apparently split up with after the summer, Marie (the same Marie as in Making Love).
       He actually says he doesn't want to get into specifics about the errand but, insofar as he is able to, he eventually does. It seems simple enough: he is to deliver an envelope with $25,000 in cash to a man in Shanghai -- Zhang Xiangzhi, who picks him up at the airport. Zhang is some sort of business associate of Marie's, and also a rather dubious figure; the narrator gets to follow the money too, and it sure looks like it's part of a drug deal (as best he can tell).
       Zhang is something between watcher and guide -- though lurker might seem a more appropriate term. The narrator never quite figures Zhang out, but lets himself be led around and handled by him. Already when they meet at the airport Zhang immediately has a gift for him -- a cellphone (representing, of course, also an unwanted anchor, since it means the narrator can always be reached -- and, needless to say, it only rings inopportunely).
       The narrator arranges to travel from Shanghai to Beijing with Li Qi, a Chinese woman he meets at an exhibition Zhang takes him to -- but Zhang doesn't let him escape that easily, travelling with them (and then 'arranging things' in Beijing as well). The narrator is never certain what has been pre-arranged for him (as suspiciously much seems to) or what exactly Zhang (and, for that matter, Li Qi) are up to, but he also doesn't fight it very hard, letting himself get dragged along wherever Zhang demands (including on a bowling-outing).
       On the trip he hears from Marie, whose father has just died. He cuts his trip short to travel to Elba for the funeral -- itself quite an odyssey. In Elba he can even briefly be his own man, the perspective even shifting for a while to follow Marie's attempts to find him. In the end, however, he again is the follower.
       The story is quite simple, but even with the constant air of irresolution strikingly suspenseful. It's not clear what exactly the narrator has been involved in in China, for example, but it's engagingly presented, the narrator's own amiable confusion well-conveyed.
       Between his lust for Li Qi and the more complex emotions involved in his relationship with Marie, Fuir is also both a sexy and deeply romantic novel -- even as he notes repeatedly that his relationship with Marie was doomed. The contrast of specific goals -- being in a specific place at a specific time (whether a funeral, catching a train, escaping a bowling alley ...) -- and utter aimlessness (the narrator often not having the least idea of where he is being taken, or where he will be the next day) is also especially effective.
       Toussaint also does a great job in presenting his locales: his contemporary China, as well very old-fashioned Elba are both superbly realized; indeed, the novel would read well simply as a travelogue -- but is, in fact, considerably deeper.

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Running Away: 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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