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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Thomas Clerc

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To purchase Interior

Title: Interior
Author: Thomas Clerc
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 337 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Interior - US
Interior - UK
Interior - Canada
Intérieur - Canada
Intérieur - France
  • French title: Intérieur
  • Translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman

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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertaining domestic spin

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Humanité . 17/10/2013 Sophie Joubert
The NY Times . 17/8/2018 Parul Sehgal
Nouvel Observateur A 5/9/2013 Jérôme Garcin

  From the Reviews:
  • "L’entreprise est absurde, fastidieuse, donquichottesque ... et diablement enthousiasmante. (...) Il regorge d’intermèdes, de mots-valises, de «Fanthomas» et d’aiguilles creuses comme les romans populaires du début du XXe siècle. À la frontière du documentaire et de la fiction, ce livre sous contrainte et sous influences est un drôle de mélange entre bibelots détruits et carrelages blancs, art conceptuel et Cluedo : Mallarmé et Jean-Pierre Raynaud, Marcel Duchamp et le Colonel Moutarde." - Sophie Joubert, L'Humanité

  • "He has never worn his influences lightly; his latest is a messy mash-up of Roland Barthes, Georges Perec, Joris-Karl Huysmans. Itís fusty and pretentious but also haunting, a book of ghosts and a book of this moment. (...) It is a work of committed, almost magnificent tedium. I had to bully and bribe myself across the finish line. I suspect Clerc did, too" - Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

  • "Nulle trace de nostalgie ou de sentimentalisme dans ce livre de clerc qui, en apparence, tient du catalogue raisonné ou du rapport d'agent immobilier. Et pourtant, à chaque page, à chaque pas, on est saisi par une émotion, un trouble, voire un vertige inexplicable. Plus l'appartement nous est révélé, plus son énigme grandit, plus on rêve de s'y rendre -- code 54 B 68. Petit intérieur, grand livre." - Jérôme Garcin, Nouvel Observateur

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:

       In its 337 pages Interior covers all of 50 m2 (just under 540 sq. ft). It is a topographic inventory-book, a walking (and nooks and crannies exploring) tour through the very small space that is Parisian Thomas Clerc's 10ème arrondissement apartment at Strasbourg-Saint-Denis. 1 Apartment was a working title for it, but it turned out very much 'interior'; as he notes that: "this book isn't meant to be a simple snapshot of my apartment, but really my apartment in written form".
       Master and model Xavier de Maistre is repeatedly invoked -- as Clerc also proclaims this is:

an over-inflated recreation of Voyage around My Room I'm the anti-Xavier de Maistre !
       Beginning with the entryway, Clerc leads the reader, in seven separate sections, through the apartment, each of these (more-or-less-)room-chapters divided into many short subsections -- objects and details found in each room, relevant incidental information, assorted odds and ends of observation -- adding up to comprehensive descriptions of the rooms and their contents, and their uses and meaning in Clerc's day-to-day life in this apartment he has lived in since 11 September 2001 (a rather freighted coïncidence Clerc never really goes into). Among the amusing consequences of Clerc's approach is that he decided at the start to leave the apartment (essentially) as is for the duration of the writing of his text -- the apartment as static, the same when he completes his tour as when he starts, rather than changing and evolving along the way, his depiction snapshot- (and museum-)like after all, rather than truly living-space -- resulting in: "2.5 years of inertia at the cost of a few recent acquisitions".
       The structure of the book is an obvious but still effective one -- with a blueprint of the apartment printed at the beginning of each section, expanding piece by piece as each new part of the apartment is introduced in an effective (because it is only bare outline) visual supplement to the otherwise entirely literary text. (Several works of art are described in Interior -- but it's not surprising that among the few Clerc has are pieces by a similarly cataloguing writer, his friend Edouard Levé (Autoportrait, Works, etc.).)
       One of Clerc's earlier works, Paris, musée du XXIᵉ siècle (Gallimard, 2007), was all exterior, and he notes
After writing a book on walking every single street of the 10th arrondissement, I've come back home.
       While there are mentions of trips, and places purchases were made, this is a story of, and practically entirely in, his four walls -- Clerc doesn't make it beyond the stairwell as he slowly leads readers forward into his space. (The repeated phantom ringing of the doorbell -- he hears it, but no one is ever there -- is one of the few dramatic/novelistic touches, shaking the narrative beyond its place-and-possessions fundamentals.)
       Clerc is thorough, panning slowly across his apartment like with a camera, looking in all the corners, opening pretty much all the drawers. Though his exercise is literary, he is often visual -- including such summings-up as: "Just as my bathroom is a failed Mondrian, so is my dish rack is a rotting Le Corbusier".
       Clerc admits his 'concept of Literature' (yes, with a capital L) is: "to express the totality of my world", and he manages quite well with(in) this closed-off environment. Unseen aspects are alluded to -- his teaching job; his girlfriend -- but barely developed: they remain extraneous (the girlfriend's presence in the apartment, in the form of a few possessions, is acknowledged, but she is never presented as being physically there).
       As a writer and teacher of literature, books are important and he has a library of some 700 volumes; he doesn't list or discuss anywhere near all of them -- not focusing on much more than the transitional margins in his alphabetical arrangement. Arguably, the book-collection is too personal, intimate, and revealing -- or still evolving, in form and influence, not ready yet for a definite, final description in a way the rest of his belongings are. Indeed, he notes it will be a while before he can think of that:
I predict that my final book will be entitled A Personal History of My Books (to be published in 50 years).
       On the one hand, Interior is of course very revealing, Clerc describing how and with what he lives, down to pretty much the smallest detail. But he recognizes that his object-focus deflects too, noting of his near-endless enumeration of possessions:
     I can see, however, that their role in my book has been mainly to drown myself under their mass and so keep me from properly revealing myself: forever delaying my laying myself bare, and so trying, through this continual postponement, to stymie this auto-autopsy.
       Interior is in no small part a character-study, the person revealed in his possessions and life-style -- much of it exhibited in how he describes his apartment- and day-to-day life. The descriptions do often focus on the precise and observable, the arguably objective -- there are lots of measurements --, but Clerc does go beyond that, the personal -- likes and dislikes, tastes, habits, attitudes -- often an important part of what is being described. The occasional dream or fantasy -- "I invited Walter Benjamin and Paul Scheerbart for aperitifs, but they never came" -- also crops up, and there are other playful elements, such as Clerc's 'Clue'-game clues (suggesting, too, surely, that there are patterns to Interior that allow for revealing deductions ...).
       At one point Clerc suggests:
I won't rule out, once this journey is complete, the possibility of opening my apartment up to public viewing, of adding it to the list of Parisian museums that welcomes visitors for a handful of hours each week. Entry: €3.50. Please call ahead for school group visits.
       But Interior is only at its most basic an accompanying catalogue; it does go far beyond that. As museum, the apartment would only be exhibition space; as literary text it is living-space, in all its senses, the narrator/Clerc's accompanying presence -- more than just as guide, but as someone inhabiting, day in and day out, the space and in constant interaction with it and its contents -- making considerably more of it.
       Such enumerating, descriptive works may not be to all tastes, but Interior is a fun and quite successful variation on the theme.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 June 2018

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Interior: Reviews: Thomas Clerc: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Thomas Clerc was born in 1965. He teaches at the Université Paris Nanterre.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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