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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Julia Deck

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To purchase Viviane

Title: Viviane
Author: Julia Deck
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 149 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Viviane - US
Viviane - UK
Viviane - Canada
Viviane Élisabeth Fauville - Canada (French)
Viviane - India
Viviane Élisabeth Fauville - France
Viviane Élisabeth Fauville - Deutschland
Viviane Élisabeth Fauville - Italia
  • French title: Viviane Élisabeth Fauville
  • Translated by Linda Coverdale

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Our Assessment:

B : neat use of voice in unusual murder-tale, but becomes over-reliant on it

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 20/11/2013 Niklas Bender
Le Monde . 5/11/2012 Jean Birnbaum
Publishers Weekly . 13/1/2014 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Bei aller Liebe zum Vexierspiel, Deck treibt es ein bisschen weit, lässt etwas viel im Vagen -- das nimmt dem Romanschluss jene Klarheit, die nach der Phrenesie nötig wäre. Der Makel rückt die Qualitäten allerdings erst recht ins Licht: Der Roman ist fast durchweg mitreißend erzählt, Deck schafft eine packende und zugleich poetische Atmosphäre." - Niklas Bender, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Le tour de force de Julia Deck consiste à installer son lecteur dans la tête de la meurtrière, dont le nom est aussi le titre du livre, Viviane Elisabeth Fauville. D'emblée, nous sommes captifs de ses failles, nous entendons les voix qui lui disent des choses banales, mais saturées de paranoïa" - Jean Birnbaum, Le Monde

  • "Deck’s novel, which was widely lauded in France, complimented by Coverdale’s unobtrusive translation, burrows deftly and unrelentingly into a troubled mind." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       Viviane centers on the character of Viviane Élisabeth Fauville, and just to make that as clear as possible the narrative begins in the second person, the 'you' of the story being said Viviane. She is forty-two and a new mother, her daughter just a few months old; she has also just separated from her husband after "two years of conjugal misery". She has been seeing a psychoanalyst twice a week for a while now, too -- and he wants to add another session a week (one can see why, soon enough ...) -- but:

on Monday, November 15 -- yesterday -- you killed your psychoanalyst. You did not kill him symbolically, the way one sometimes ends up killing the father. You killed him with a Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Profection santoku knife.
       The second-person voice, putting the reader in the place of this apparent killer, has its appeal and power: it makes for great immediacy, much more so than even a first-person confessional would. Complicating matters, however, is the fact that Viviane is obviously somewhat (or possibly very ...) unbalanced. She was already seeing a psychoanalyst twice a week, but the additional strain of new motherhood and separation from her husband (even if there wasn't much left to that marriage anyway) obviously weighs on her too. And there's the fact that she seems to have some lingering mommy-issues of her own: her mother is dead (though she doesn't always see it quite that way) and, for example, Viviane has hung on to her mother's old apartment, neither using, nor selling, nor renting it out.
       The narrative -- in which the second-person voice dominates, but which does switch occasionally to first or third person singular, too -- both follows Viviane as she recreates/reimagines what has happened and what happens to her in the days after her psychoanalyst's death. There is a police investigation, and she is repeatedly questioned. There is also a fairly detailed description of her going through the motions that 15 November, explaining just how she got the knife (a wedding present from mom ...) and how she covered her tracks. But how reliable is she as a not-quite-narrator (seen mainly as 'you', not 'I') ?
       While capable of precise and careful planning -- including always dealing with the infant, which, after all, needs close and almost constant attention -- Viviane is also a mess, her mental state very fragile. But whether she's become, or revealed herself as a full-blown psychopath or something different is going on is long teased out as an open question as the novel and the investigation progress.
       The temptation in fiction to fall back on alcohol- or drug-induced hazes that blur reality -- or, as in this case, take advantage of a mentally unbalanced character to similarly play with what might be real and what might not be -- is always dangerous. Deck handles her protagonist quite well, most of the way, but it's hard to see this sort of thing through both convincingly and satisfyingly. Enough of the writing in Viviane is stylish, and there's enough suspense, to make for a fairly compelling read, but for those of us with little patience for mentally unbalanced perspectives the unfolding story soon veers into enervating territory. Anything goes if you unmoor you character sufficiently -- and Viviane seems pretty nuts, quite a bit of the time -- and what's the fun in that ? (While the use of the second-person voice is effective it also exacerbates this underlying problem: as the novel progresses, it becomes much more difficult for the reader to continue to identify with this unbalanced 'you'.)
       A lot of Viviane impresses. There's some very good writing here, and the voice is, for long stretches, a striking one. There's also decent mystery-suspense surrounding the the murder. Presumably, arguably, the story only 'works' in this form because of the protagonist's fragile/unbalanced mental state; nevertheless, that is also the novel's greatest flaw. Despite working to ground the text and character -- another advantage of the second- over the first-person voice -- too much relies on Viviane's disconnect with reality. So too it's disappointing (but hardly surprising) that the novel's closing words find Viviane: "in more and more of a daze".
       Deck means of course to revel in and use her protagonist's daze, but it's a literary game that few are equipped to play well; Deck is good, but she's not nearly that good. "For inspiration, Deck read the work of Samuel Beckett", the jacket copy of the US edition tells us, and the epigraph is from Beckett, too; would that authors had more faith in their own abilities and didn't try so hard to emulate and imitate. Fortunately, at least, Viviane doesn't feel too derivative -- but too bad Deck didn't have the confidence to go entirely her own way. Less daze would certainly have helped.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 March 2014

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Viviane: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Julia Deck was born in 1974.

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