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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Célia Houdart

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To purchase Quarry

Title: Quarry
Author: Célia Houdart
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 82 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Quarry - US
Quarry - UK
Quarry - Canada
Carrare - Canada
Carrare - France
Carrara - Italia
  • French title: Carrare
  • Translated by K.E.Gormley

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Our Assessment:

B+ : deceptively straightforward, neatly accomplished

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Monde . 8/12/2011 Christine Rousseau
Publishers Weekly . 11/11/2019 .
Le Temps . 18/11/2011 Eléonore Sulser

  From the Reviews:
  • "Autant de qualités que l'on retrouve aujourd'hui dans Carrare, mais transcendées par la beauté minérale et végétale des paysages toscans que Célia Houdart sait finement dépeindre par petites touches. Ou plutôt ciseler. Car ici l'écriture a partie liée avec la sculpture, dont Carrare, réputée notamment pour ses carrières de marbre, fut jadis un haut lieu. La sculpture donc et plus précisément la taille directe. Une technique laissant libre cours à l'imagination de l'artiste, que semble avoir adoptée la romancière pour extraire ce bref récit tout irisé d'ombres et de lumières, et dont le motif ne se dévoile que lentement. Tout comme les personnages silhouettés dans la brièveté d'un instant, d'un geste, d'une image, d'un reflet, d'une fragrance." - Christine Rousseau, Le Monde

  • "Houdart’s gripping English-language debut builds into a sensitive, masterful study of the consequences of life’s minor turns. (...) Houdart both fulfills and transcends the conventions of the crime novel. (...) (T)his slim novel is a surprising pleasure." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Célia Houdart compose la trame de Carrare à l’aide d’instantanés dérobés au temps, comme suspendus dans le présent. Elle donne au livre une couleur cinématographique. Le lecteur est un spectateur qui assiste, en voyeur ravi, à cette succession de scènes. (...) Les personnages n’ont pas d’intériorité palpable, les lieux demeurent lisses. Leur importance, les liens qu’ils tissent entre eux, tout cela est laissé au-dehors du texte, à l’imagination du lecteur." - Eléonore Sulser, Le Temps

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:

       At 82 pages, Quarry is a sliver of a novel; presented in 42 obviously very short chapters, it nevertheless unfolds at a comfortable pace and the narrative is neither staccato nor rushed, nor annoyingly dense. Houdart takes her time, and still manages to cover a great deal; the novel certainly feels more expansive than its actual length suggests.
       The story is, at its most basic, a kind of legal procedural, a not-quite courtroom drama. Three years earlier, there had been a break-in at the house of the prefect of the Italian city of Pisa; in fleeing the scene the thief had fired three shots, one of which hit the prefect. Though seriously injured, he survived and recovered. A few weeks later Armenian immigrant Marco Ipranossian was arrested. He has been in custody since and the novel opens with his case finally coming to trial.
       The actual trial does unfold, more or less, over the course of the novel, but the courtroom barely figures (in part also because of the way the Italian (and most European) legal-judicial system works, with the case here remaining a somewhat ongoing one, and the judge's role more involved than merely presiding over a final contest in a courtroom).
       The central figure in Quarry is the judge in charge of the case, Marian; her husband, Andrea, an essentially unemployed academic (his area of expertise Southeast Asian studies), and their daughter Lea, an aspiring sculptor, also figure prominently. The chapters move back and forth between, among others, their different stories: Marian and the case she is involved in; Andrea and his hopes for a university appointment in Siena (he gets an interview with the university president); and Lea's interest in sculpting, including a visit to a marble quarry in Colonnata (one of the famed Carrara quarries). Beyond that, there are also developments in the case against Ipranossian, with a neighbor from back during the time of the crime coming forward to provide additional information; the novel also fills in background of the different characters, and follows Ipranossian, and his lawyer's work. Among Houdart's effective techniques is also the presence of very strong secondary figures who are nevertheless left in entirely supporting roles: Ipranossian's cellmate, Filippo, for example, or Seung Mi, a Korean student also studying sculpture.
       The short chapters move back and forth among these characters' different paths and stories, but in Houdart's plain and simple presentation this doesn't cause confusion or irritation. Each chapter is well-formed, events presented in simple, deliberate, unadorned style, without commentary or speculation. Everything proceeds straightforwardly and naturally and is easy to follow, despite all the backs and forths; the larger, interconnected picture that emerges, with echoes from earlier chapters resounding in later ones, comes together almost effortlessly.
       On the one hand, not much seems to happen in Quarry. Marian follows up a lead regarding the case, Andrea has an interview that turns out not to be quite for a job, Lea visits a quarry -- those are more or less the highlights, as far as the action goes. Yet Houdart easily holds the reader's attention: if not exactly closing her chapters with outright cliff-hangers, she nevertheless effectively uses the techniques of the suspense-writer in leaving just enough of the question what-next-? open throughout. There is some genuine suspense -- there are parties clearly seeking to influence the outcome of the trial -- as well as hints of it at a more everyday level, such as whether Andrea will find an academic job, or how Lea's trip will unfold, but Houdart allows these to largely simply simmer: she doesn't play them up (she plays little up ...), which ultimately also makes the book as a whole more effective. In not highlighting only one specific question -- such as whether or not Ipranossian is guilty --, as a traditional mystery or thriller might, Houdart's text offers a much broader, deeper satisfaction.
       It makes for an unusual but seductive little work. Quarry doesn't offer neatly tied-up resolutions -- yes, Ipranossian's legal fate is decided, but when it is, it's almost incidental -- and yet Houdart manages to offer a work that feels complete. It offers many of the satisfactions of a genre-legal-thriller or whodunnit -- but, emphatically, not in its conclusions, and yet that doesn't disappoint.
       Both gripping and extraordinarily leisurely, Quarry is a quite remarkably fashioned and composed novel, not weightier than its slim size suggests -- the writing is gossamer-light -- but certainly much larger.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 January 2020

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Quarry: Reviews: Célia Houdart: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Célia Houdart was born in 1970.

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© 2020 the complete review

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