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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Ready to Burst


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To purchase Ready to Burst

Title: Ready to Burst
Author: Frankétienne
Genre: Novel
Written: 1968 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 162 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Ready to Burst - US
Ready to Burst - UK
Ready to Burst - Canada
Mûr à crever - Canada
Ready to Burst - India
Mûr à crever - France
  • French title: Mûr à crever
  • Translated by Kaiama L. Glover

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Our Assessment:

B+ : impressively if darkly exuberant

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Humanité . 20/6/2013 Muriel Steinmetz
TLS . 20/2/2015 Jake Elliott

  From the Reviews:
  • "Doté d’antennes invisibles, il joue au sismographe. Paulin, l’apprenti écrivain -- autoportrait lisible de l’auteur --, trouve refuge dans la littérature qu’il compte bien renouveler. (...) Dans ce récit initiatique, Frankétienne donne du nerf à son style avec des phrases courtes dans lesquelles le mot, livré à ses vertus associatives, n’est plus ligoté par un sens univoque." - Muriel Steinmetz, L'Humanité

  • "In other hands, this meta-staging of a drama amid a literary manifesto might risk a descent into pomposity and obfuscation, but Frankétienne has a deftness of touch pleasingly reminiscent of Roberto Bolaño. In Glover’s fine translation we can only hope that the "Father of Haitian Letters" will finally reach the wider audience he deserves." - Jake Elliott, 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:

       Ready to Burst opens with an explanation and defense of 'Spiralism', the technical-aesthetic approach the author takes in this novel, and a subject to which he returns repeatedly in the course of the narrative. Yes, this is a novel-about-writing-a-novel, to a certain extent, as one of the protagonists, Paulin, is working on one -- and, as he explains:

These pages are poetic, written in the style of the Total Genre. The Spiralist genre, which embraces at once the novel, poetry, the folktale, theater. In an impressive liaison. The whole thing harmonized in a single architectural ensemble. In order to reconcile art and life.
       Life is a spiral in motion, and so is the work he -- Paulin as well as Frankétienne -- wants to write:
I'm constructing my novel in a spiral, with diverse situations traversed by the problematic of the human, and held in awkward positions. And the elastic turns of the spiral, embracing beings and things in its elliptical and circular fragments, defining the movements of life. This is what I'm using the neologism Spiralism to describe.
       The basic story is fairly straightforward, as Ready to Burst focuses on two lives: there's Raynand, who loses his great love, Solange, ventures to the Bahamas to earn a better living, is deported back to Haiti, struggles to make ends meet, and is eventually imprisoned. And there's would-be writer Paulin, his friend, whose main struggle is in trying to create his work of art -- trying to write even as he understands that: "Literature is dying" (but finding in those death-throes still some use for it). They are different and yet much the same -- indeed, Raynand eventually says of Paulin:
     Maybe he's just me ... Me at a distance ... Me in the conditional ...
       Maybe, indeed, Raynand is just an invention of author-Paulin, an alter-ego for his Spiralist invention .....
       Frankétienne's novel describes the:
Tragedy of a people torn between secular suffering and the uncertainty of a dream without moorings.
       The novel moves between realist-depictions of everyday life and struggles -- especially Raynand's --, Paulin's fictional theorizing, and more abstract fragments. Frankétienne weaves all these threads together, too: Paulin tries to write a work following these principles; Raynand eventually reads and reacts to Paulin's efforts (and is the one who realizes the title for Paulin's work -- a title that is, of course: Ready to Burst).
       Frankétienne tests Spiralism, but also keeps it under fairly tight control; the narrative spins, rapidly but not too wildly, and it does not lose all sense of story and progression, despite Paulin's claims to the (somewhat) contrary:
Not necessarily accessible from the start. I present my language in the dizzying circle of a fabulous merry-go-round. Magic carousel that sometimes spins against the wind. It's a moving polyhedral mass. Changeable. I loathe the Procrustean bed.
       It's telling that so much space is devoted to explaining the writing, rather than simply writing in this manner, as if Frankétienne harbored doubts that Spiralism could hold its own without being propped up by careful explanations of the method, and arguments for its suitability. Still, this at least is effectively done, and it does blend in reasonably well with the stories spun around it here. Occasionally, too, the insights are worth this behind-the-scenes perspective, as when Paulin discusses the degradation of language and the difficulties of then using it in art:
Certain words. Certain expressions. As a result of being brooded over. On everyone's lips. On everybody's tongues. Soaked in drool. They end up being veritably eroded, left with nothing more to say. Having become insipid flakes of sawdust that pass ridiculously from one mouth to the next. Empty speak.
       Paulin also argues for the fast-paced work of fiction: ours is no longer an age when people have the time to linger over over-long works, he maintains:
Our age doesn't lend itself to reading literary works, boring in their too often useless length.
       Frankétienne, too, seems convinced:
In this world of speed, where events unfold at a dizzying pace, faster is better.
       And yet while this novel zips along quickly, and isn't very long, Frankétienne still manages to convey the drawn-out desperation of everyday Haitian life at that time. For all their personal frenzy, the characters rarely and barely manage to advance in any meaningful way, frustrated in many of their ambitions by a corrupt society and a Haitian economy that has little room for them or most of their compatriots; the only economic success story is of a foreigner who manages to fleece the locals in an elaborate con, based solely on appearances. Advancement -- indeed any reasonable form of life -- seems only possible beyond Haiti, the ambition for many of the characters, regardless of what it entails (and from arranged marriages to a plague of crabs, those seeking escape put up with a lot in trying to obtain a better life).
       If the case made for Spiralism here is not entirely convincing, Ready to Burst is nevertheless an impressive case-study -- a novel that is 'ready to burst' yet manages still to maintain a solid enough shape for readers to readily grasp it and what its author wishes to convey, in all its messy power. Perhaps Frankétienne could or should have shown greater faith in literature -- far from dead yet, as this novel too proves -- but even with all the doubts riddling it, Ready to Burst is a vital, impressive work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 September 2014

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Ready to Burst: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Haitian author Frankétienne was born in 1936.

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