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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Wert and the Life
Without End

Claude Ollier

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Title: Wert and the Life Without End
Author: Claude Ollier
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 267 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Wert and the Life Without End - US
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Wert et la vie sans fin - Canada
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Wert et la vie sans fin - France
  • French title: Wert et la vie sans fin
  • Translated by Ursula Meany Scott

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Our Assessment:

B : fine if familiar-feeling journey in memory and writing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frieze . 5/2011 Hugo Wilcken

  From the Reviews:
  • "The third person switch transforms Wert himself into a tale told; at the same time, his long journey begins to resemble episodes from ancient sagas, first recounted thousands of years ago. Dream, memory and myth blend within an uncertain subjectivity." - Hugo Wilcken, Frieze

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:

       Wert and the Life Without End is divided into two parts. In the first, a character tries to get his bearings: writing in the first person, he describes his current situation and begins to piece together parts of his recent (and clearly traumatic) past. Wert finds himself in some sort of institution -- something like a hospital, but isolated and bare (which also reflects Wert's own state), and with limited human contact. In the second part, largely presented in the third person, Wert journeys, in a sort of quest -- the next stage in his healing process, as he tries to become whole again.
       The novel is almost fragmentary, presented in separated sentences, a gap between each, few running more than a few lines (and some just a single word or two, e.g.: "Adventures"). There is almost as much white space as writing on each page, the text broken and freed up.
       In part this is also a writing-exercise -- specifically for Wert, in the first section, as he tries to capture and structure things on the page. He begins fairly uncertainly: "It's certainly my handwriting", he observes when he comes across some pages, but the disconnect between what he records and what he recalls only gradually lessens. There's also repeated frustration, as, for example: "in my desolation every term that comes to mind only results in apathy, in distrust." Speech takes even longer to return -- "the phonic mechanism no longer responds" -- and without that more direct form of communication these thoughts and observations remain inward-looking, even as he does interact with others (notably a 'Quartermaster') who are concerned with his welfare and improvement.
       There are indications Wert was a writer of sorts -- "me, the scholarly one", he admits at one point, and he writes:

I engrave my tablet, my own past, my old past, scribe by trade, plagiarist or crude apprentice, amateur striking the pose.
       Traumatized in war, he slowly rebuilds his self -- though it's a fragile process:
What could happen here that would disrupt the ordinariness of things happening over and over again and taken in hand by the subject, supported and worked on through and through, montage in a loop, actions frozen, magic lantern to besiege and exhaust the patient, surviving bearer of ruined affection, actor and witness, will be nothing but a witness later, will no longer bear anything.
       When he came to this place, he was: "Too disoriented to behave correctly outside", but his stay does give enough of a hold to venture out into the world again -- though his departure, the closing words of the first section of the novel, certainly sound ominous:
Then I go through the door, wordlessly admitted into the afterlife of grief.
       The second section is a different sort of quest: where previously he had been safe within four walls, he now wanders. But while the perspective shifts -- to a third person narrative -- the presentation remains the same, the observations simply now (mainly) exterior rather than interior. Uncertainty remains pervasive; Wert also has little sense of, for example, the passage of time.
       The journey takes on mythic qualities -- even as he travels by 4x4 and boat -- and leads Wert to "Xian the Sage", a Buddha-like figure. The promise here, of what amounts to 'the life without end', is a quasi-religious one, and Wert seems destined for it, a final resting place for his troubled self.
       Often stylish, with some very fine pieces and observations, Wert and the Life Without End is an interesting text. Much of this, however -- the approach, the arc of much of the 'story' (man slowly rebuilds life by writing in some mysterious, vague setting) -- is terribly familiar, and there's not enough of a new or different spin to make this variation stand out. If it's the first time one comes across such a text, Wert and the Life Without End would impress greatly; after dozens of similar encounters it gets to feel a bit tired.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 June 2011

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Wert and the Life Without End: Reviews: Other books by Claude Ollier under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Claude Ollier lived 1922 to 2014.

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