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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



René Belletto

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To purchase Coda

Title: Coda
Author: René Belletto
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 72 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Coda - US
Coda - UK
Coda - Canada
Coda - Canada (French)
Coda - India
Coda - France
  • French title: Coda
  • Translated by Alyson Waters
  • With a Preface by Stacey Levine

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Our Assessment:

B : agreeable, odd little work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 3/1/2011 .
The Stranger . 8/3/2011 Paul Constant

  From the Reviews:
  • "This madcap, metaphysical mystery ably fits perpetual motion machines, immortality, and blood-sacrifice sects into 88 brisk and brainy pages. (...) Not a detail is wasted in this taut, cleverly conceived plot. The book is replete with doublings, references, and lingering remarks reminiscent of Cesar Aira, and is packed with bright ideas and memorable images." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Belletto's cockeyed mystery evokes the very best aspects of Haruki Murakami, and the slenderness of the narrative provides a marvelous introduction to a promising talent in a pleasant, unintimidating fashion." - Paul Constant, The Stranger

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:

       The opening line of Coda is:

     It is to me that we owe our immortality, and this is the story that proves it beyond all doubt.
       Those are rather bold claims -- that about immortality, as well as that the story that is to follow will provide proof (considering that that story only numbers 69 pages). But the narrative turns so quickly to the everyday that most qualms or questions about the claims are readily put aside.
       The narrator is a well-to-do widower, living in Paris with a young daughter, Anna. The account opens in August, with him dropping Anna off at her maternal grandparents (with whom he does not get along particularly well). He had been on a trip with Anna; certain that his refrigerator had been empty when they left, he comes home with a big load of groceries -- but finds, mysteriously, a package of frozen food in the freezer. Clams. There's no explanation for their presence save one:
     I had to face facts: while I was away someone had come into my house and placed a package of Marty Frigor clams in my freezer.
       Obviously .....
       A bit of detective work leads him to an old friend, a party, a mysterious woman named Marthe, as well as his friend's younger sister, Agathe. Coincidence -- from meetings to a key that fits a strange lock -- and mystery lead the narrator on, and even while he also seems to go about life as usual, spending time with his daughter, meandering about, he is drawn to an inevitable (and very odd) conclusion. His daughter's kidnapping helps force the issue and certainly shakes him up (but then the mysterious appearance of the clams already shook him up), but it too is all of a piece.
       The narrator owes his affluent lifestyle to his father's obsession: perpetual motion machines. His father constructed several: none that worked quite as hoped for -- "Nothing perpetual, alas, except inertia" -- but he never built the most ambitious of his eight designs, leaving it for his son. If not a complete success either, this one nevertheless turns out to work quite well:
the system of spirals and cogwheels my father had imagined ran for an entire day, twenty-four hours.
       The narrator was inspired to combine that with an aquarium, to make a luxury decorative piece that he could sell as a retail product -- an item that turned out to be surprisingly popular, earning him a good living. Soon enough: "All I had to do was collect the payment made to me each quarter."
       The dream of perpetual motion -- of conquering entropy (and hence also the Wärmetod (as the German so nicely has it) -- 'heat-death' -- the universe (and all its inhabitants) are destined for) turns out to be far more central to the story, as the narrative that began rather straightforwardly twists into an elegant and agreeable fantasy. Yes, there comes a point where the narrator returns home to find his perpetual motion machine still going -- despite his not having restarted it for days -- leading him to wonder: "What was this new mystery ?"
       What it is is a clever (if completely fanciful) twist that allows the many small pieces (and the path down which he has been so carefully led) to fall into place, leading to a beautifully turned (if absurd) ending.
       With all the Belletto is going after here, Coda might have benefitted from a more substantial build-up; there is something to be said for the almost gossamer presentation, but there's huge ambition here, too, and it could have been developed more fully. Still, this is a very pleasing text, and despite some of the narrator's odd choices and many open mysteries is both enjoyable simply for the story that slowly unfolds as well as for the philosophical puzzle (and solution) it turns out to be.
       Good fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 April 2011

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Coda: Reviews: Other books by René Belletto under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author René Belletto was born in 1945.

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© 2011 the complete review

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