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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



The Posthumous Works
of Thomas Pilaster


by
Éric Chevillard


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Posthumous Works of Thomas Pilaster



Title: The Posthumous Works of Thomas Pilaster
Author: Éric Chevillard
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 173 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Posthumous Works of Thomas Pilaster - US
The Posthumous Works of Thomas Pilaster - UK
The Posthumous Works of Thomas Pilaster - Canada
L'œuvre posthume de Thomas Pilaster - Canada
L'œuvre posthume de Thomas Pilaster - France
directly from: Sublunary Editions
  • French title: L'œuvre posthume de Thomas Pilaster
  • Translated by Chris Clarke

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Our Assessment:

B : playfully multilayered

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Libération . 4/3/1999 J.-B.Harang
Le Temps . 10/4/1999 Isabelle Rüf
World Lit. Today A Summer/1999 Brian Evenson


  From the Reviews:
  • "Le neuvième roman d'Eric Chevillard est une entreprise de démolition. Démolition de la littérature qu'il contient, dénoncée comme nulle, preuve en main, autant dire une opération suicide irréversible, dont il ne devrait pas se relever. (...) Alors, de trois choses l'une: ou bien Chevillard s'est permis une fable d'autodérision, se moquant de lui-même et de son impuissance à résister aux mots d'auteurs, ou bien il a tenté d'écrire sur la médiocrité et la vanité de l'écrit et des écrivains au risque que sa démonstration lui retombe sur le nez. (...) Ou bien il a trouvé un moyen habile et réussi de nous faire lire ses fonds de tiroirs, ce qui revient au même puisque, au fond des tiroirs, il y a souvent un revolver qui vous nargue." - Jean-Baptiste Harang, Libération

  • "Eric Chevillard, grand équilibriste en pirouettes verbales, se risque là dans le pastiche polymorphe. Très surprenant exercice, délicieux dans le registre de la perfidie du commentateur et préfacier, souvent drôle et parfois charmant dans les écrits du sieur Pilaster" - Isabelle Rüf, Le Temps

  • "The work of Pilaster itself is sometimes slight, sometimes clever, sometimes quite funny, sometimes illuminating, though all of it becomes interesting in a different way when seen in relation to Marson's attempts at justification. (...) An open and writerly text, Chevillard's novel leaves ample room for speculation about the relation of Marson and Pilaster, about Pilaster himself, (...) about the possibility of a manipulator behind both of them, and about the larger notion of identity itself. Amusing while still subtle and masterful, L'œuvre posthume de Thomas Pilaster is one of the author's strongest, most amusing, and most intellectually stimulating novels." - Brian Evenson, World Literature Today

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 Posthumous Works of Thomas Pilaster is a collection presented as edited by Marc-Antoine Marson, himself a prolific author as well as longtime friend of Pilaster: they met at boarding school -- and it was through Marson that Pilaster met Lise Combes, his devoted companion and muse until her tragic death.
       Marson's Preface to the collection begins with the question of whether or not one should publish posthumous works at all. He speculates about the reason why there may be such texts to consider in the first place -- why authors might hold onto old and fragmentary texts, if they didn't mean to publish them -- and offers several plausible reasons. Beyond these, he suggests there might be more to them than what first meets the eye: "What if these texts, encrypted, concealed a secret meaning, information accessible thanks to a code developed by our author and known only to him ?" Certainly that then becomes something to look for in the seven Pilaster-texts Marson collects here -- but even more so in Marson's own contribution to the collection, from his Preface to the introductory Note he offers for each of the texts, the footnotes (offering both explanation and commentary) he sprinkles in, as well as finally the Chronology summing up the significant dates and events of Pilaster's life.
       Despite their apparently close friendship, Marson clearly has issues with Pilaster, which is also reflected in his often very strong opinions about Pilaster's work. Acknowledging some of Pilaster's success, he's nevertheless quite critical and seems to take particular pleasure in pointing out his failures. Meanwhile, he's all gushing praise about Lise Combes, finding she was: "prodigiously intelligent and more beautiful than any concatenation of words could convey" -- and suggesting it was Combes who was responsible for essentially all of Pilaster's creative success: she was: "the woman who breathed life into his imagination and then whispered the greater part of his books into his ear". Pilaster outlived Combes by almost fifteen years, with Marson claiming he was unable to write anything of worth once she was no longer at his side.
       It doesn't take much to read a passionate obsession with Combes into Marson's commentary, as well as a deep jealousy of Pilaster for having won over this paragon. And then there are the circumstances surrounding the deaths of first Combes (in 1982) and then Pilaster (in 1997), the first an apparent accident -- Marson should know, he was at her side when it happened ... -- the second finding Pilaster with: "his letter-opener (a small Spanish dagger, very practical) sunk in his throat", in a still open case .....
       Pilaster's posthumous works are a varied lot, presented chronologically here, covering work from 1952 through the time of his death. Two are diaries or notebooks, with dated entries, from 1952 and then 1991, less autobiographical record than collection of short observations and would-be aphorisms -- "I have preferred to erase the autobiographical elements of my private journal", he notes in the earlier diary. Still, there are some observations of his life at the time, with Marson making the case for the inclusion of the 1952 diary not least because: "we are able to witness the first appearance of Lise Combes" here. (As also becomes evident, in both Pilaster's works and Marson's commentary life-story has a way of seeping in; so also the 1991 notebook includes the best of the aphorisms: "All rereading is autobiographical".)
       Several works are pieces of fiction: 'The Vander Sons Company' is what remains of Pilaster's stab at detective fiction, the first in what was meant to be a series featuring an Inspector Madigan, but that never made it beyond this short-story stage. Another piece is all that remains of an ambitious project Pilaster was working on for three years, from 1976 to 1979, which he referred to as his "Tigers", a mere six pages left over (from: "a thousand crossed-out pages thrown into the fire"). 'Lecture With Slides' is a short, complete stage-piece of sorts, a neat little conceptual piece that stands well on its own with its apocalyptic vision ("soon there will be no trace left of mankind's time on this Earth, all evidence will be buried").
       'So Many Seahorses' presents the unpublished pages of a book of the same title Pilaster published in 1967 -- unquestionably his best, Marson insists --, "a collection of analogical formulas with poetic pretensions", e.g.: "The canary hasn't touched the whites of his egg". The final offering, presented as 'Diminished Capacities' (the one of Pilaster's working titles for it Marson opted for ...), collects tercets -- would-be haikus, Marson suggests, with Pilaster failing miserably at holding to the form.
       All in all, the seven pieces, on their own, make for a very random-seeming collection -- if not quite an author's dregs, still of limited interest to all but the most die-hard fan. But, of course, The Posthumous Works of Thomas Pilaster isn't just made up of these seven pieces, and it is Marson's role in all of this -- Pilaster's life, as well as the editing of this collection -- that makes it something more.
       So The Posthumous Works of Thomas Pilaster is an amusing multi-layered work, the sampler of Pilaster's very varied writings only giving a vague impression of him as a writer while Marson's commentary shapes an increasingly clearer picture of both Pilaster (as Marson very subjectively saw him) and Marson himself. Pilaster's writings are a very motley collection, but the pieces are short enough that they don't get tiresome and Marson's introductory notes to each make for an enjoyable loose thread running through the entire work. While Marson can't suppress his feelings, Chevillard doesn't overdo it with his presence; despite some strong and harsh opinions about Pilaster, Marson doesn't push himself to the fore; some occasional outbursts notwithstanding, the implicit is very nicely balanced with the explicit throughout, as this is a novel which a great deal can be read into.
       The Posthumous Works of Thomas Pilaster does have the feel of a game, but it is an enjoyable one, neatly crafted and good fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 March 2021

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Links:

The Posthumous Works of Thomas Pilaster: Reviews: Eric Chevillard: Other books by Éric Chevillard under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Éric Chevillard was born in 1964.

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© 2021 the complete review

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