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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Jean Echenoz

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To purchase Ravel

Title: Ravel
Author: Jean Echenoz
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 117 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Ravel - US
Ravel - UK
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Ravel - Canada (French)
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  • French title: Ravel
  • Translated by Linda Coverdale
  • With a Foreword by Adam Gopnik

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Our Assessment:

A- : simple, effective

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ A 14/4/2007 Joseph Hanimann
L'Humanité . 12/1/2006 Jean-Claude Lebrun
The LA Times . 24/6/2007 Susan Salter Reynolds
NZZ . 8/4/2007 Andreas Isenschmid
NZZ . 16/8/2007 Thomas Laux
The NY Times Book Rev. . 19/8/2007 Alison McCulloch
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Summer/2006 Warren Motte
TLS A+ 3/2/2006 Gabriel Josipovici
Die Welt . 10/3/2007 .

  Review Consensus:

  Generally impressed by what he does and how he does it

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dem Autor Jean Echenoz ist hier das Kunststück eines literarischen Sonderdings gelungen. Statt die Figur vom recherchierten Material her aus der Phantasie zu füllen, zu schattieren, auszumalen, zu ergänzen, höhlt er sie aus. (…) Das Anekdotische rieselt in der Darstellung von Echenoz aber immerfort an den Geschehnissen ab. Nicht wie es (wohl) war, ist entscheidend, sondern wie es für uns Leser gerade ist. (…) Ravel, diese leere Figurenformel, sind wir selbst. Weiter kann man im Roman kaum gehen. Dieses Buch ist ein literarischer Grenzfall, voll Überraschungen dazu, es zeigt, wie weit Erzählkunst reichen kann" - Joseph Hanimann, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "L’ultime décennie d’une vie prodigieuse se donne ici à voir. Sauf que le livre n’affiche aucune véritable parenté avec les biographies classiques. Parce qu’Echenoz n’obéit pas au commandement premier du genre. Jamais ne se place en position d’extériorité par rapport au récit." - Jean-Claude Lebrun, L'Humanité

  • "(E)in literarisches Kabinettstück (.....) Er bringt einem erst die seltsame Insichgekehrtheit oder Weltabgewandtheit und zum Schluss den Erinnerungs- und Kontrollverlust des Komponisten Ravel auf sehr berührende Weise nahe. (...) Seine so hochgradige künstlerische Wirkung gewinnt dieser kleine Roman aber nicht aus den Fakten, sondern aus ihrem Arrangement. (...) Mit minimalem Aufwand hält uns hier ein Autor maximal wach." - Andreas Isenschmid, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Echenoz geht es in seinem Roman über den berühmten Komponisten Maurice Ravel (1875–1937) nicht in erster Linie um biografische Genauigkeit, sondern um ein Spiel mit Wahrscheinlichkeiten, um romaneskes trompe-l'oeil. (...) Zum Glück übertreibt er es nicht, zu keinem Moment. Überwiegend scheint ihm alles sogar sehr ernst zu sein." - Thomas Laux, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "This beautifully musical little novel" - Alison McCulloch, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Playing on generic tensions, Echenoz appropriates Ravel, drawing him into the world of fiction purposefully, offering us a portrait of the artist which questions the distinctions we habitually draw between biography and novel, and rendering those distinctions largely moot in the end." - Warren Motte, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "The brevity of the book is part of the reason for its success. As we finish it we feel that Ravel (like all other people) has escaped us. But that is partly what makes us feel him now lodged within us, a living being. Would that biographers more often heeded the lesson of this book. But how could they ? It's a miraculous and moving performance." - Gabriel Josipovici, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Die überzeugendste Metapher, die sich Echenoz dafür hat einfallen lassen, ist Ravels Schlaflosigkeit. Leitmotivisch durchzieht sie die Handlung. Im Grunde ist das Buch erzählt als ein vom Komponisten unter Qualen stets und ständig wiederholter Versuch, sich dem Schlaf zu überlassen. Aber diese Form des bei sich Selbst-, ja mit sich selbst Identischseins ist diesem Rastlosen nicht vergönnt." - Die Welt

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:

       Ravel is a small book, not much more than a hundred pages, divided into nine chapters that span the last ten years of French composer Maurice Ravel's life. It is certainly not rushed: Echenoz doesn't linger over details, but his focus is as much on the small as the large (the book begins with Ravel in the bathtub). Surprisingly, the book also feels rich and expansive, giving a full picture of Ravel's last years.
       The book begins with him embarking on a trip to North America. As Echenoz reminds the reader in his send-off of the character:

It is his first trip there; it will be his last. He now has ten years, on the nose, left to live.
       The few months of the trip takes up about half the book, and gives a good impression of the man. He is self-centred and oblivious to much around him. Coddled on the trip (as most everywhere else), he lives in a sort of bubble -- all the more obvious in America, where he can not understand the language and can thus barely communicate directly.
       The disconnect from what's around him is something that increases as his time winds down. His mind ceases to function the way he'd like or was used to; eventually an automobile accident exacerbates the situation (and, ultimately, leads to the invasive procedure that kills him). For a while, however, he's still fairly active, and, for example, the piece the one-armed Paul Wittgenstein commissions winds up being fodder for continuing dispute (as Ravel isn't at all pleased with Wittgenstein's embellishments when he performs it).
       Somehow -- one is almost surprised how he does it -- Echenoz squeezes in a lot of biographical detail: events, places, meetings (with translator's notes at the end of the book identifying many of the the major (but now generally forgotten) players). Yet Ravel never reads like biography; its appeal is in the story and the remarkably assured telling. There is an odd feel to it -- this is very much the story of a winding down of a life, and the narrative itself seems almost to fold in on itself until there is, at the end of the book, nothing left -- yet it's quite satisfying.
       Different from the usual biographical fictions, which revel in and expand on every detail, Echenoz's Ravel is a fascinating fictional transformation. Worthwhile.

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Ravel: Reviews: Maurice Ravel: Jean Echenoz: Other books by Jean Echenoz under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Jean Echenoz has won numerous literary prizes.

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© 2007-2017 the complete review

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