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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Pierre Mérot

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To purchase Mammals

Title: Mammals
Author: Pierre Mérot
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 198 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Mammals - US
Mammals - UK
Mammals - Canada
Mammifères - Canada
Mammifères - France
Säugetiere - Deutschland
  • French title: Mammifères
  • Translated by Frank Wynne

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Our Assessment:

B : decent, lively approach, but ultimately not compelling enough

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Globe & Mail . 8/4/2006 Almeda Glenn Miller
Independent on Sunday A- 30/7/2006 Laurence Phelan
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 25/3/2004 Barbara Villiger Heilig
New Statesman . 7/8/2006 Tom Webber
The NY Times Book Rev. . 30/7/2006 Etelka Lehoczky
TLS . 28/7/2006 Mark Kamine
Die Welt . 10/7/2004 Steffen Richter

  From the Reviews:
  • "French novelist Pierre Mérot has given us a cynical and brutally amusing confessional in this impressive translation of his novel Mammals. It is a literature of inelegant truths, a tale of relentless debauchery. (...) Mammals could have been one long wallow in lost love and aborted jobs (...) but the most refreshingly charged disclosures are at the heart of the novel." - Almeda Glenn Miller, The Globe & Mail

  • "Such essays on contemporary malaise and ennui are commonplace, but Mammals' charm is that Uncle's ceaseless mordant irony is genuinely funny, and that Merot's sleek prose slips past you as easily as the second half of a bottle of decent red." - Laurence Phelan, Independent on Sunday

  • "This is a novel of unfulfilled potential, in which the Uncle's attempts at subversion are a defence against his repeated failures and a last-ditch attempt at attention-seeking. So far, so unoriginal. (...) Houellebecq he is not. Nor is he Lowry, or Bataille, with whom he seems to think he has something in common. Perhaps Charles Bukowski ? But Charles Bukowski crossed with Jim Morrison." - Tom Webber, New Statesman

  • "Merot's language is so packed that Wynne's occasional awkward translation can be violently jarring. But that's a testament to the author's talent: there may not be much plot in the uncle's story, but he tells it supremely well." - Etelka Lehoczky, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Mérot has little patience with conventional narrative's stratagem of suspense, relying instead on outrage, anecdote, perverse humour, and flights of fancy, to sustain interest. (...) Family, romantic love, psychiatry, education are all subjected to Uncle's frequently funny, resoundingly cynical pseudo-scientific observations." - Mark Kamine, Times Literary Supplement

  • "So also klingt der nicht mehr ganz so neue Chic aus Paris. Denn für jedermann sichtbar schreibt Mérot im Dunstkreis Michel Houellebecqs. Dass Säugetiere in Frankreich beim Verlag Flammarion unter der Ägide von Frédéric Beigbeder erschienen ist, macht es noch schwieriger, keine Schublade aufzuziehen. (...) Wenn hier nicht purer Zeitgeist prämiert wurde, dann vielleicht der Wille zur Satire und die gelegentlich erkennbare literarische Konstruktion." - Steffen Richter, Die Welt

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:

       Mammals is yet another novel about contemporary French (male) failure, recounting not so much a mid-life crisis as the inevitable complete collapse.
       The central character is the family black sheep, identified as 'the uncle' -- despite also being son and brother -- as if to emphasise how very peripheral he is. Now forty years old, the novel describes his sad and very sorry life -- and part of its success is in its presentation, a distancing that presents the uncle as example (though he is, of course, anything but: he's not even very good at failure). Most of the story is related in the third person, but there are passages in the second as well, the (self-)loathing of the accusation on the page directed directly not so much at the reader but at the figure mercilessly being exposed here, while also being more encompassing, drawing in that entire class of failures (of which you too may be an example)
       The uncle is certainly an alcoholic -- he's "on intimate terms with at least ten locals" (i.e. bars) and drinks "eight pints of beer in an evening. Sometimes more." He's had some crappy jobs, and now he's unemployed. He's moved back in with his parents. One of his problems is, of course, with love:

the uncle's opinion of love is broadly pessimistic. He once wrote: Love lasts for as long as it takes to destroy its object. He was not yet thirty; the phrase smacks of romanticism. If he considers his life now, he would be more inclined to say: any couple embarking on a relationship is harbouring the stowaway of their inevitable separation; in fact, their relationship is nothing more than the gradual, increasingly conscious construction of their impending breakup.
       So here's a guy with a fun philosophy, no future, and a drinking problem. But most of the book isn't so much a wallow in the present as a recapitulation of what happened in the past. (It's not so much a description of how he got where he is -- it's not like he's on a specific self-destructive path: he's always been a mess, buffeted around pretty much by chance.)
       He's twice "attempted emotional suicide" -- i.e. been in a serious relationship. He even lasted four years married to a Polish woman, but obviously he doesn't bring the right sort of attitude towards this sort of thing (i.e. relationships). "Marriage was something exotic, it was a challenge", but he's clearly never really been up to much of any sort of challenge.
       Much of the book describes his misadventures in trying to do what society and family expect from him, like being in a steady relationship or holding down a job. There are some fun riffs here, especially about his careers, including as a teacher and working for a publisher (though in both cases he tars with a very broad brush). There are also the obligatory alcoholic excesses (and their consequences) -- rather tiresome from a forty year old -- though, come to think of it, most of his antics are pretty tiresome.
       The fun of the book is in its tone -- irreverent, to say the least, and at it's best very amusingly nihilistically-cynical. Surprisingly, it's the philosophical spouting rather than the actual examples where he's often the most convincing, the black world vision, as when he insists:
     Anyone who thinks families act out of love should think again. A family is an exercise in domination. As in every group, you will find people who want to dominate others.
       Much of it is self-serving philosophising, an excuse for what other see as a failed and wasted life and all the going through the motions (from his excessive drinking to his sessions with therapists), but he spins it out very well. But the rest of the book is too conventional, the life-story amusing but more pieced together anecdotes than anything else.
       Mammals is fairly good -- and occasionally appealing sharp -- fun, yet another portrait of sad modern (European) man. Though it's more surface than depth, Mérot does show some flashes of insight that work very well -- but he can't keep it up throughout.
       Amusing enough, but not too much more.

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

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About the Author:

       Pierre Mérot is a French author.

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© 2006-2021 the complete review

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