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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

All the King's Horses

Michèle Bernstein

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To purchase All the King's Horses

Title: All the King's Horses
Author: Michèle Bernstein
Genre: Novel
Written: 1960 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 139 pages
Original in: French
Availability: All the King's Horses - US
All the King's Horses - UK
All the King's Horses - Canada
Tous les chevaux du roi - Canada
Tous les chevaux du roi - France
  • French title: Tous les chevaux du roi
  • Translated and with an Introduction by John Kelsey
  • Afterword by Odile Passot (translated by Paul Lafarge)

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Our Assessment:

B : decent trifle

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Nation . 5/1/2009 Joshua Clover

  From the Reviews:
  • "The slight plot can be as easily coordinated. It takes Dangerous Liaisons and the 1942 Marcel Carné film The Night Visitors -- both of which involve a supernally merciless, sensual couple debauching innocents -- and asks their bare bones to dance once more. (...) Because of its cult value, the book is condemned to expectations. What one thinks is likely to depend on what question one asks of the book. Radical tract, sly goof, period piece, anthropology of a movement, feminist apparition ? (...) All the King's Horses is absolutely modern: boring as the surface of administered life, Paris paused between Old World and New Wave, between manners and style. Within that infinitely flat moment, a secret adventure lurks almost in plain sight." - Joshua Clover, The Nation

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:

       All the King's Horses is a roman à clef written by Guy Debord's wife, the narrator, Geneviève, and her husband Gilles the stand-ins for the real-life couple. As founders and leading figures of the 'Situationist International' there remains considerable interest in these two, though readers looking for juicy autobiographical gossip will likely be disappointed -- though perhaps they can read something into the various little dalliances on offer here.
       All the King's Horses begins with an art opening, the painter charming but someone "who had already been forgotten a generation before ours". Still, Geneviève and her husband accept a dinner invitation from the old man too, amused by his friends who: "paraded out -- in the usual order -- all the ideas from thirty years ago". Soon enough the focus shifts to the hip and youthful -- i.e. Bernstein parades, in the usual order, what seemed hip ... fifty years ago (though, admittedly, the style is one that still has a hold on the would-be artsy twentysomething generation of this and pretty much every day).

     "What are we drinking ?" I asked.
     "I don't like Ricard."
     "Drink something else."
     "I don't feel like something else."
     I asked the owner for a Ricard and some stew, like Gilles.
       All the King's Horses isn't quite faux-Sagan, but there are certainly elements of that here. As the narrator notes, however:
In any case, there's something to be said for cleverly using the clichés of one's time.
       That Bernstein does, and it makes All the King's Horses a modestly interesting document of its times. It's never clear quite how serious she takes this fairly silly tale of husband and wife sleeping and lounging around a bit, but there's an appealing balance between sincerity and irony here.
       Despite it being such a small work, Bernstein does throw in pretty much every trick in the book, including having Gilles point out:
We're all characters in a novel, haven't you noticed ? You and I speak in dry little sentences. There's even something unfinished about us. And that's how novels are. They don't give you everything. It's the rules of the game. And our lives are as predictable as a novel, too.
       Gilles also reminds Geneviève: "You've never been afraid of banality", and that certainly appears to be true -- but there's a spirit to it that's playful enough to make most of it quite bearable. For the most part Bernstein doesn't take herself (or her book) too seriously, though there are the occasional gross missteps, notably including:
     I looked at him lovingly. We never make anything without breaking something. Bertrand didn't know that in this omelet he would be the egg.
       There are some amusing asides, but Bernstein doesn't give in to the temptation to use these too often. There's a nice if somewhat forced bit about two authors writing a detective novel together, taking turns writing the chapters, the one complaining that all his characters keep disappearing -- "He always kills them". Or there's the occasional bon mot she clearly found too good to pass up:
Gilles and Carol complained about the American occupation.
     "If you think the sailors are bad," said Gilles, "you should see their intellectuals."
       And there is a brief mention of what Gilles actually does -- working on reification, he explains that: "I walk. Mainly I walk." (That's presumably exactly the kind of quote Debord-fans come to this book looking for, and should be enough to satisfy them.)
       On the whole, however, banality (and banal relationships) dominate. At less than a hundred pages it all passes quickly and harmlessly enough, coming across both as cryptic and naïve; mysterious, anyway -- mysterious enough to sustain interest over the length of the short book.
       All the King's Horses is hardly memorable, but it is competently written, engaging enough, and an interesting document of the times.

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All the King's Horses: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Michèle Bernstein was the wife of Guy Debord.

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© 2009 the complete review

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