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the Complete Review
the complete review - literature / non-fiction


Palace of Books

Roger Grenier

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

To purchase Palace of Books

Title: Palace of Books
Author: Roger Grenier
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 139 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Palace of Books - US
Palace of Books - UK
Palace of Books - Canada
Le palais des livres - Canada
Palace of Books - India
Le palais des livres - France
  • French title: Le palais des livres
  • Translated and with a Foreword by Alice Kaplan

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Our Assessment:

A- : compact, rich pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 29/9/2014 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Grenier opens the door to his in this wide-ranging, impressively erudite, deceptively slender volume. (...) Kaplan's translation captures the wry humor and elegant poise of prose that, like a fine wine or expensive cigar, should be allowed to linger on the tongue." - 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:

       Palace of Books does not, at first sight, appear palatial; it is a fairly small book of nine essays that one would think would be too short to cover some of the broad questions they address. In fact, however, Palace of Books is expansive, the pieces information-, example- and analysis-packed yet still airy. Grenier relies on literature, weaving these essays out of a quick succession of quotes and examples from a wide rage of literary works and background to make his chain of argument -- yet he does more than just simply string them together.
       Each of Grenier's pieces focuses fairly closely on a specific subject. In 'Waiting and Eternity', for example, he considers that most common yet readily forgotten ("Waiting is what you erase from your existence") experience (or anti-experience ?). In 'A Half Hour at the Dentist's' he considers the short story -- noting that: "It really took off in certain countries and at a certain stage when there were newspapers and magazines capable of supporting it", while nowadays: "If you write a short story in France today, you don't know what to do with it".
       One piece looks at unfinished work (leading him also to wonder: "Which is worse ? To be unfinished or to be finished ?"), another at the idea of a 'final work'. As he notes in the latter: "Writing forces you to consider the problem of posterity, even if you don't give a damn".
       Over ninety when this collection was published, it's no surprise that Grenier is preoccupied with questions of finality, in its different forms -- so also, in 'Leave-Taking', with that absolute one, suicide. His examples of writer-suicides suggest the puzzling potential near-banality of even this ultimate act, Cesare Pavese taking his life because none of the women he phoned wanted to "waste an evening with him", Romain Gary killing himself after an "ordinary afternoon" of mundane activity.
       Grenier pairs the subject of suicide with a defense of contradiction in 'Leave-Taking', a good way to approach the often seemingly so contradictory action of taking one's own life. It leads him also to another contradiction writers face: not just the question of ' Why live ?' but also: "Why do we write ?" and he returns to this in the concluding piece, 'To Be Loved', wondering about this: "need to write. Where does it come from and how does it take hold ?" He considers, briefly, a variety of reasons behind the need to write -- to be loved, to publish, a substitute for death, and many more. He's not looking for the definitive answer, knowing, obviously, there isn't one, but it's a neat reflective tour (nicely concluded with the answer both Sartre and Beckett gave: "What else is there to do ?").
       'Private Life' considers the question of just how much an author's personal life and public image have to do with their art -- leading him also to suggest:

What is a novel, finally ? It's a sort of mirror that reflects both the innermost life of the author and some aspect of the exterior world. [...] Life in its raw state is often too incoherent, too mysterious as well, for us to be able to learn anything from it. Life, decomposed and recomposed through the prism of the novel, allows us to reflect.
       There are many interesting titbits in this collection, including some personal ones, such as Grenier's admission that:
I've never read all of Joyce's Ulysses, nor listened to Pelléas and Melisande all the way through, nor read Claudel's The Satin Slipper in its entirety.
       And along with many odds and ends about writers there's even a bit of good gossip:
And when President François Mitterrand got interested in a woman, he always gave her a copy of Albert Cohen's Belle du Seigneur. I know this from the woman who worked in the bookstore where he used to stock up.
       Grenier ranges far with his examples and quotes -- though French, American, and classical Russian literature dominate -- and he has a very nice hand in weaving these together with his own thoughts and reflections. He rarely lingers over any particular thought or argument, but while there may be an appearance of skimming along over a surface, Grenier's essays never feel superficial. Concise, they also never feel tight -- in part, of course, because he relies so much on quotation and examples from authors' works and lives, i.e. there is so much behind his quotes and examples, the reader bringing his or her own reading, knowledge, and experience to bear on what Grenier presents and expanding on it.
       Grenier carefully avoids definitive claims and statements -- hence also his frequent questions (which he doesn't claim to have the answers to) -- yet these essays aren't entirely open-ended. He manages to say what needs to be said -- leaving room for further speculation, but offering a satisfying sense of wholeness. While relying very much on the literary, this isn't a scholarly volume, and Grenier in no way bludgeons readers with erudition: Palace of Books is very enjoyably readable.
       A fine, thoughtful collection.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 October 2014

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Palace of Books: Reviews: Other books by Roger Grenier under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Roger Grenier was born in 1919.

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© 2014 the complete review

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