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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Francis Bacon's Armchair

Sébastien Brebel

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To purchase Francis Bacon's Armchair

Title: Francis Bacon's Armchair
Author: Sébastien Brebel
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 86 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Francis Bacon's Armchair - US
Francis Bacon's Armchair - UK
Francis Bacon's Armchair - Canada
Le fauteuil de Bacon - Canada
Le fauteuil de Bacon - France
  • French title: Le fauteuil de Bacon
  • Translated by Jesse Anderson

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Our Assessment:

B : quite effective account of obsession and isolation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Matricule des Anges . 3/2007 Anthony Dufraisse
Le Monde . 29/3/2007 P.K.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Jamais le lecteur ne s'y perd, ce n'est pas une écriture contournée, mais qui se contorsionne sur elle-même. (...) Bernhard à la française, mais plus fragile, mais bien plus fébrile." - Anthony Dufraisse, Le Matricule des Anges

  • "Sébastien Brebel poursuit sa recherche avec ce très dérangeant roman philosophique. Le récit laisse entendre et résonner, avec une puissance rare, la voix d'un narrateur plus qu'il ne met en situation un personnage ou une action." - P.K., Le Monde

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 narrator of Francis Bacon's Armchair has recently spent several months institutionalized but is now well again -- "I woke up one morning and my sickness had disappeared". There's still an obsessiveness to his notebook-writings that suggests there's some lingering mental instability, but apparently he can function adequately on his own again. He lives on his own, wanting to start fresh, as it were -- having made sure no one knows where he is, for example -- but he's still adrift. So too, for example, he lacks in identity: "Who am I ? Nobody." He is convinced: "You must choose a life and anchor yourself to that life" -- but he isn't quite sure of the one he wants to -- or might be able to -- commit to.
       The isolation seems to get to him relatively quickly. One thing he hasn't gotten over -- though not for want of trying -- is Cathie, from the hospital, a woman he was obsessed with. Eventually, he can't bear it any longer; he has to call Cathie -- and so ventures out and down the stairs, knocking on apartments, hoping someone would let him use their phone.
       This is how he encounters Sauvage, an obese translator and music-lover who apparently never gets out of his chair (reminding him of Francis Bacon's Study After Velásquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X). The narrator doesn't reach Cathie, but he does form a relationship with Sauvage, coming back to visit him repeatedly. Sauvage, too, lives in isolation, working on a translation of The Dictionary of Rare and Incurable Illnesses.
       Both the work Sauvage is dealing with, as well as his translation-work on it are like what any writer faces -- or indeed anyone dealing with life: just as one has reached some understanding of a small bit and dealt with it, one is confronted with a larger, entirely new set of issues:

And here, says Sauvage, is here all the difficulty resides: during the time it takes to fully understand a disease, to discover its limits and map its symptoms, life invents ten new ones, more subtle and more cunning than any of their predecessors, and medicine is pushed backwards into a deeper state of ignorance. Every day that goes by, I think to myself while looking at Sauvage, another page is added to the dictionary, every day our bodies create new pages, and Sauvage must devote himself to the translation of these pages, written in the obscure language of life.
       The narrator learns some of Sauvage's past, including that he studied music and had avidly composed pieces of music (before destroying almost all of them). His experiences with Sauvage are his only social interaction, yet their connection on goes so far; eventually, Sauvage abandons him as well.
       The narrator says of his notebook that it is: "my only possession, my only piece of property (so to speak)". His writing -- specific yet leery of absolutes; unsure -- is an outlet hold for him as he tries to re-shape his world, yet hardly a substitute for his interactions with Savage -- or his frustrated longing for Cathie. The narrator recognizes language as a hurdle, and he struggles with it; when he learns of Sauvage's plans to leave one way he explains it to himself is that:
Sauvage had been cured of the word illness, he'd become healthy, I said to myself, and he was getting ready to join the a part of the world unknown to me
       Obsessed with illness, and isolated, the narrator struggles with his position, frustrated by it yet unable to keep from withdrawing further into himself and his obsessions.
       Brebel's short novel conveys the narrator's personal struggles well, the voice a convincing one. The style, and many of the ideas, remind of Thomas Bernhard, though Brebel has his own distinctive touch. Even if much is familiar here -- beginning with the mentally unbalanced, compulsive narrator -- it's a dark, engaging, compact novel.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 December 2016

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Francis Bacon's Armchair: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Sébastien Brebel was born in 1971.

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© 2016 the complete review

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