Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Public Reading
Followed by Discussion

Danielle Mémoire

general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Public Reading Followed by Discussion

Title: Public Reading Followed by Discussion
Author: Danielle Mémoire
Genre: Novel
Written: 1994 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 155 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Public Reading Followed by Discussion - US
Public Reading Followed by Discussion - UK
Public Reading Followed by Discussion - Canada
Lecture publique suivie d'un débat - Canada
Lecture publique suivie d'un débat - France
  • French title: Lecture publique suivie d'un débat
  • Translated and with an Introduction by K.E.Gormley
  • Preface by Warren Motte

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : twisty, recursive exercise, neatly executed

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Public Reading Followed by Discussion is, on the one hand, a novel offering exactly what the title promises. On the other hand, the public reading(s) aren't exactly what the audience(s) -- those in the novel, and those reading the novel -- likely had been hoping for or expecting, while the resulting discussions also go rather differently than one might expect.
       The 'public reading' is meant to be a simple author-reading: an author reading from a work -- in progress, in this case -- and then fielding questions and engaging in discussion about it with the audience. It doesn't work out that way -- for one, because the author doesn't have much to offer: the work in progress turns out not to be so much in progress at all, the author appearing instead quite empty-handed, explaining to the audience:

     I thought I did have a work in progress. I thought so when I accepted the invitation, and it seemed to me I had plenty of time. When I realized it wasn't going to go any further than this, I tried to cancel: I phoned. No one picked up.
     — You could have written.
     — But, as you've seen, writing is a problem for me.
       As the author explains, there's nothing to read: "I haven't brought anything. I can improvise, if you like". And so Public Reading Followed by Discussion is very little public reading and a lot of discussion -- becoming, itself, a work in progress --, with the novel almost entirely in dialogue, save what amounts to some stage direction and some description -- as in describing the audience's reaction to this improvisation-offer:
(This really isn't what the audience would like, but they didn't come all this way just to turn around again and leave so soon.)
       Of course, for the reader of the novel there is, in fact, a text being read (albeit in different form from a public reading) -- and Mémoire plays off of this, too: Public Reading Followed by Discussion involves not just the novel-characters of author/speaker and audience but also the novel-reader as well: the role may be a passive one, but in this novel about interacting with the text the novel-reader's position is also constantly one being considered (and shifted).
       The narrative itself is multilayered: stories -- interactions between the characters, as well as brief fragments of actual stories -- nest within each other and build off each other. Audience-reactions affect the course of what happens in a constantly shifting text, perspectives twisted back on each other -- not least that of the novel-reader, who deals only with the text, even as the text deals with (out-loud-)readers interacting with an audience. As one author-reader points out:
Me, you can see me ! But I'm not the reader of the text.
     — To be fair, though, you are the one who read it.
     — I read it in the real world, not in the text. Didn't you understand that someone within the text was reading ?
       Of course, for the novel-reader, not part of a physical audience but rather only holding this book in the real world, all the (public-)readers are within the text .....
       The text being read builds off itself -- it becomes a text through the interaction of (would-be) author and audience, allowing for back-and-forth such as:
     — The story he reads, have you written it yet ?
     — I would have read it, if I had.
     — But you are going to write it.
     — Sooner or later, I hope so.
       Mémoire and her characters stick to the same template:
I have another text here. It's very different from the first, though organized around the same principle: There's a public reading, and it's followed by a discussion. Time and again, the discussion is revealed to have been part of the text itself, and we enter into a new discussion, which is in turn revealed to have been part of the text itself.
       Yet also an author can suggest:
Each of these readers represents me in my capacity as author of these works. Speaking through any given one of them, I unfold for you the full theoretical, or possibly aesthetic, or sometimes ethical horizon of the respective work, of which he is the sole author.
       Mémoire does move beyond the purely abstract, with outlines of stories as well as some actual action between reader and audience; at one point, things get so far out of hand that the stage-directions reveal: Carnage ensues. But, of course, also at every point and in every scene the question is whether the real-life scene is being described, or whether the action is merely part of the (or yet another ...) text ..... (And, of course, for the novel-reader, it's all part of the text .....)
       Quotation -- internal and external -- and repetition feature prominently in the narrative. The stories reference familiar tales such as Heine's Atta Troll, while when the failed reader first suggests improvisation he offers up quotation straight out of (if not quite verbatim) Joyce -- "Stately and plump, he appears at the stairhead".
       Quotation is also brought to the fore in that the reader often concludes what he says with: 'End quote' (without, however, generally making clear where the quoting began ...). Often, it suggests a demarcation between text he is reading and then his responses to the audience -- but, since the interaction with the audience is often part of the text, it's often not that clear-cut.
       This reliance on quotation, too, can be taken to extremes -- not only in its abbreviation to 'E.Q.' (the reader explaining: "I got tired of saying 'End quote' and abbreviated it to 'E.Q.': E.Q."), but, for example, when the reader promises the audience: "I'll read you another you'll like better. Stay, stay":
(They stay. The public reader pulls another sheet of paper from his hat.


Begin quote.
     (End quote.)
       Readers of the novel might find themselves like one member of the audience/character in the story, expressing some surprise and disappointment about the lack of action: "I thought something was going to happen", as rather little of the sort found in conventional narrative does. The same character gets even more specific: "I thought something was going to happen outside of the text". And, indeed, that is where the action is -- even as the character is, of course, right, that very little really seems to happen; 'action' here is on a different plane -- and, in fact, there's quite a lot of it. Just not the usual story-kind of 'action'.
       Public Reading Followed by Discussion constantly blurs the lines between fiction and the presentation of fiction. The narrative turns into its own work-in-progress, pulling its audience into its creation. Mémoire disabuses us of the idea of a passive reader, as neither the fictional audience nor the novel-reader is ever allowed to settle simply into consuming the text, but rather constantly has to engage with it and (re)shapes it. Novel-reader and audience are pushed into a pro-active role, sharing authorship, as it were, of the text.
       It's an interesting, often wild exercise, quite well executed by Mémoire -- "It's unusual, maybe, but complicated -- it's not complicated", the public-reader observes about the form the novel takes -- a twisty, recursive, and though-provoking narrative.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 April 2021

- Return to top of the page -


Public Reading Followed by Discussion: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       French author Danielle Mémoire was born in 1947.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2021 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links