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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Demolishing Nisard

Eric Chevillard

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To purchase Demolishing Nisard

Title: Demolishing Nisard
Author: Eric Chevillard
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 135 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Demolishing Nisard - US
Demolishing Nisard - UK
Demolishing Nisard - Canada
Démolir Nisard - Canada
Demolishing Nisard - India
Démolir Nisard - France
  • French title: Démolir Nisard
  • Translated by Jordan Stump

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Our Assessment:

B : amusing spin on literary obsession

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 5/10/2006 Olivier Le Naire
Frieze . 12/4/2011 Hugo Wilcken
Publishers Weekly . 4/7/2011 .
TLS . 24/11/2006 Robin Buss

  From the Reviews:
  • "Affolante et désopilante, son autopsie d'une névrose obsessionnelle, d'une paranoïa sans bornes, est une réussite." - Olivier Le Naire, L'Express

  • "In France, the novel has mostly been seen as an attack on present-day literary critics, but it is more interesting than that. The real subject of the novel is not the critic, but the writer." - Hugo Wilcken, Frieze

  • "Aided by Jordan Stump's vivacious translation, which captures equally both the verve and the tomfoolery of the original, this tragicomic manifesto reads like a good farce peppered with some heartfelt cultural criticism and a copious serving of existential angst." - Publishers Weekly

  • "The effect of all this bile, as Chevillard no doubt intends, is ultimately to create sympathy for its long-dead victim. (...) The narrator of Chevillard's novella, so un-Nissardian in its wit, whimsy and brevity, eventually comes to share this sneaking admiration." - Robin Buss, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Désiré Nisard (1806-1888) was an actual French author, critic, and member of the Académie Française, and the narrator of Demolishing Nisard is obsessed with ... demolishing this obscure figure. Part of the fun in this is, of course, that there's little need to demolish Nisard: as the narrator admits, he's been pretty much entirely forgotten. Yet Nisard represents something that torments the narrator, and nothing less than demolishing him will do:

the aim of these pages' author is clear, and boldly proclaimed from the start: he means to destroy Désiré Nisard, and then his work will be done. That's a solemn vow. I'm going to sic my dogs on him, loose my falcons, lay waste to his orchards, brutalize his family, do you hear ? I'm going to demolish Désiré Nisard.
       Yes, it promises to be a not-so-slight case of overkill -- which, ironically, in a way resurrects Nisard (while merely ignoring him, as everyone has been doing, would have left him rotting in his deserved obscurity).
       And what is Nisard's great crime ? It's everything he stands for:
     In the midst of magicians and sorcerers, Nisard is the disenchanter.
       For Nisard, "French literature fell into an irreversible decline with the death of Bossuet and the end of the seventeenth century" -- i.e. his literary ideals are of the stalest, most reactionary sort -- making him dangerous as a critic and literary historian (his best-known work is a history of the literature of France), and an enemy of literary innovation.
       For the narrator, Nisard symbolizes the worst of the literary world, an attitude and opinions that hold everything back and bog everything down; more generally, Nisard is the stand-in for all the puffed-up critics whose opinions shouldn't matter -- which is, again, part of the joke, since Nisard (and his opinions) haven't mattered in the least for many decades. Indeed, it's the narrator who ascribes too much meaning to Nisard and his ilk, reveling in: "the unquenchable source of vexations this Nisard constitutes !"
       What the narrator fears, of course, is not so much Nisard and his influence, or even the contemporary counterparts that vex him; no, he fears his own Nisardification. As the woman in his life, the long-suffering Métilde, observes: "you're getting to be every bit as odious as Nisard." Yet he also comes to see in Nisardification the possibility of release .....
       Despite the narrator's desire to demolish Nisard, he also eagerly seeks out Nisard's own attempt at fiction, A Milkmaid Succumbs -- a book that Nisard disavowed, to the extent that he apparently: "spent a part of his life seeking out copies of that book and destroying them." Nisard claims it must be a horrible work, and that he'd only like to "skim" its pages, to confirm what he already knows -- yet he puts great effort into hunting it down, too. Here as elsewhere the narrator also reads a great deal into Nisard that he can't possibly know: Nisard is simply so real to him that he feels able to make these unsupported claims. (His obsession also goes so far as to lead him to transpose Nisard into the contemporary world, with, for example, numerous press agency reports interspersed in the text -- the likes of: "In a Tuesday, August 3 interview on RTL Radio, Désiré Nisard reaffirmed his position that France's minimum wage is overly generous", etc.)
       Chevillard convincingly presents this tale of obsession, his author so caught up in pursuing an aesthetic-philosophical ideal that he loses, as it were, the plot. Tilting at this particular windmill, the narrator flails about, convinced that "all darkness emanates from Nisard" and that if he can just rid himself of the vile creature ..... But, of course, he is the one who created this particular monster, resurrecting the long-dead and forgotten Nisard -- and the ending Chevillard allows him is also found in further embrace of the resurrected character; it looks to afford release and escape, but one wonders whether it will hold.
       Demolishing Nisard is an often amusing and quite cleverly presented tale. Good literary fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 August 2011

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Demolishing Nisard: Reviews: Eric Chevillard: Other books by Éric Chevillard under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Éric Chevillard was born in 1964.

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