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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Olivier Adam

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To purchase Cliffs

Title: Cliffs
Author: Olivier Adam
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 147 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Cliffs - US
Cliffs - UK
Cliffs - Canada
Falaises - Canada
Falaises - France
Klippen - Deutschland
  • French title: Falaises
  • Translated by Sue Rose

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well-written account of coming to terms with the past

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 29/4/2008 Thomas Laux
Le Temps . 19/11/2005 Isabelle Martin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Seine zeitweiligen Dope- und Alkoholexzesse sind als Kompensationsversuch getarnte Fluchten ins Innere, so obsessiv wie sinnlos. Und dennoch löst sich ganz allmählich etwas auf: der immer wieder neu gestartete Versuch, sich über sich selbst klarzuwerden, bildet schliesslich so etwas wie die Grundlage für eine aktive, letztlich auch gelingende Trauerarbeit. So bleibt trotz einem dauermelancholischen Grundton Olivier Adam in seinem Roman stilsicher auf Kurs. Er bemüht keine pathosgetränkten Bilder, die Erzählung rührt einen auch so. Ein gutes Buch." - Thomas Laux, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Roman de la douleur et de la détresse, Falaises se refuse au pathos par son style sobre, net, presque âpre, à situer du côté de Raymond Carver plus que de John Fante (deux grandes admirations d'Adam): c'est un livre aux franges du silence, écrit par quelqu'un qui ne veut pas désespérer de la vie." - Isabelle Martin, Le Temps

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:

       In Cliffs the narrator spends a night recalling his past. "I'm thirty-one and my life is just beginning" he says -- or hopes. He's in a hotel in Normandy, the one woman in his life, Claire, and their infant daughter Chloé sleeping peacefully in the room -- all the family-idyll he could wish for -- while he sits on the balcony
       It's a place he has to be, even though it's hardly a great vacation spot: twenty years ago to the day his mother died here. He obviously hasn't been able to get over that loss:

     After she died, she was always with me, living by my side, saturating each moment with her presence, each particle of air with her memory and the mystery of my honeycombed memory.
       Over the course of this night he recounts his life and her death, and all the other relationships that weigh on him -- especially his father's failures. As a child he had a hard enough time comprehending what was going on: his mother was mentally ill and hence unpredictable. Before she died she burned herself and was institutionalized for half a year; when she got out they came to this place, with these cliffs .....
       The mother held the family together, the gruff unapproachable father an almost impossible to deal with character, especially once she is out of the picture. The narrator has an older brother, Antoine, who takes the death even harder, his body shutting down right there at the funeral in a first attempt at escape; later, as soon as he is old enough, he leaves everything behind. The narrator hears from him occasionally, for a while, but:
Every time, I recognised him a little less, his old gestures were superseded by new ones; his smiles, his mannerisms, his face was superseded by other smiles, other mannerisms, another face. My brother was changing, the way someone wipes the slate clean, makes a fresh start, and soon, in this irreversible process, I was the last vestige of a past life, a life he wanted to forget.
       It's the same for the narrator, one suspects, who also left his father behind him as soon as he could. Claire and Chloé now represent an opportunity for a clean-slate beginning. He doesn't have to settle his accounts first, but he does have to go over them again, and he describes his teen years, of escaping into sex and alcohol along with his brother, and then later the woman he had an affair with (and who brings him together with the current woman in his life, Claire), another lost, unsaveable soul.
       It makes for a fairly grim tale, but Adam pulls it off remarkably well, the story not just some wallow in self-pity. One really gets the sense that the narrator has reached the point where he can start anew -- and yet that it's also a precarious point, that it's not simply a matter of leaving everything else behind. The success of a story like this depends almost entirely on the tone it's presented in, and Adam does that very well, making for a surprisingly compelling account.

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Cliffs: Reviews: Other books by Olivier Adam under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Olivier Adam was born in 1974.

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© 2008-2019 the complete review

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