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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Little Grey Lies

Hédi Kaddour

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To purchase Little Grey Lies

Title: Little Grey Lies
Author: Hédi Kaddour
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 176 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Little Grey Lies - US
Little Grey Lies - UK
Little Grey Lies - Canada
Savoir-vivre - Canada
Little Grey Lies - India
Savoir-vivre - France
Savoir-vivre - Deutschland
  • French title: Savoir-vivre
  • Translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan

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Our Assessment:

B+ : elegantly presented tale, neatly turned

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Figaro . 6/3/2010 Olivier Mony
NZZ . 16/7/2011 Jeannette Villachica
TLS . 2/4/2010 David Coward

  From the Reviews:
  • "Il y a du Colette, du James et l'ironie crépusculaire d'un Ophuls dans ces pages où le réel joue à cache-cache avec l'Histoire, où l'identité se décline à l'infini comme pour mieux se travestir. Du grand art." - Olivier Mony, Le Figaro

  • "Die Auflösung trifft einen wie ein Paukenschlag. Savoir-vivre ist auch ein Buch über das Spiel mit Rollen und Identitäten in Krisenzeiten. Auch wenn nicht von Beginn an klar ist, was der Autor dem Leser mit diesem Roman sagen will -- durchhalten lohnt sich. Savoir-vivre entfaltet seinen Reiz nach und nach und wird zum Schluss hin immer spannender." - Jeannette Villachica, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Out of a dead story culled from an old newspaper, Kaddour conjures an elegant, subtly layered book which delivers more than it seems to promise." - David Coward, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Little Grey Lies almost seems presented in drips, 128 short chapters covering its 176 pages, information doled out piece by small piece. It begins in London, in 1930, French journalist Max Goffard meeting up with his American friend Lena Hellström (characters familiar from Kaddour's first novel, Waltenberg -- though Little Grey Lies certainly works entirely as a stand-alone). Max is looking for a story, and in retired Colonel William Strether, a hero of the terrible Battle of Mons (1914), he thinks he's found one:

     Max thought Strether was crazy, a crazy person who believed in the return of the archers of Azincourt, hiding in the recesses of history. And that madness deserved a story.
       The Great Depression still reverberates through Europe: jobs are hard to find, it's a struggle to make ends meet. And fascism is on the rise, on the continent but also in Britain -- albeit in a more fragmented and less successful way there. Strether offers insight into the British fascist scene: he is active in it, though not in any central position. But the more Max learns from him, the more of a story he sees. And, as it turns out, he doesn't know the half of it .....
       Kaddour shifts around from Max and Lena's casual relationship to an affair Lena carries on for a while to what Strether relates to Max to backstory that eventually comes very surprisingly to the fore. When all is said and done and Max can put together the story (that is very different from the one he saw himself writing at the start) he's asked by one of the parties involved (in what has also become a considerably more complex game) that when it all comes out into the open:
No novels. We're not in a Mrs Christie novel.
       They're not -- even Agatha Christie wouldn't quite have dared this -- but it is one of these stories that seems stranger-than-fiction (even as it is apparently based on actual events), making it great novel-material.
       Kaddour doesn't mislead, but in withholding information, and presenting some information in such a way that its actual significance can't immediately be recognized, he does toy a bit with the reader, building up to the big reveal; it's fair enough, for the most part, since that's the way the characters are hit by it too, but it's a bit of a cheat, too.
       What it adds up to is a novel that gives a richer portrait of a time and generation -- and a political movement -- than its small size suggests is possible. The turn the novel takes puts a different spin on things -- suddenly much of the story is seen from an entirely different angle, a stunning turn-around -- and in a sense shines a second light on much that had been presented before. A second layer to the text is revealed, making for a much richer work; as noted later on about one of the players: "He had become the character in the scene everyone needed", and the changed circumstances of the resolution leave a curious sort of vacuum.
       Yes, it can feel like Kaddour is trying too hard at times to make his points about the lives of that era, but he pulls it off quite well. It is a story full of feints and hints, with many of the small scenes and various encounters -- subtle, understated -- very nicely presented. If at first the story doesn't seem to be going anywhere (or rather seems to be going in too many different directions) it comes together well and picks up speed and momentum as it progresses.
       A solid little work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 September 2013

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Little Grey Lies: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Hédi Kaddour was born in 1945.

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© 2013-2017 the complete review

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