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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Albertine Sarrazin

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To purchase Astragal

Title: Astragal
Author: Albertine Sarrazin
Genre: Novel
Written: 1965 (Eng. 1967)
Length: 196 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Astragal - US
Astragal - UK
Astragal - Canada
L'astragale - Canada
Astragal - India
L'astragale - France
Astragalus - Deutschland
L'astragalo - Italia
  • French title: L'astragale
  • Translated by Patsy Southgate
  • With an Introduction by Patti Smith
  • Astragal was made into a film in 1968, directed by Guy Casaril and starring Marlène Jobert and Horst Buchholz

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Our Assessment:

B : impressive writing, though story itself too mired in the autobiographical

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 9/6/1968 Gloria Steinem
TLS . 11/4/1968 Nicolas Freeling

  From the Reviews:
  • "The book has little importance, but the page glitters with promise. The more difficult, in consequence, the task for the translator. This English version is a little pale and thin, but nearly always faithful, and always sympathetic." - Nicolas Freeling, 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:

       Albertine Sarrazin's novel Astragal is narrated by Anne, barely an adult yet. It begins with her escaping from prison with a thirty-foot jump/fall; she survives it basically intact, except for smashing up her ankle (hence the title, which refers to the ankle). Amazingly, she finds a rescuer on the road -- Julien, himself a small-time hood with prison experience -- and he has the right contacts to stow her away for a while.
       The novel recounts her time on the lamb. For much of it she is immobilized by her severe injury, and concerned about losing her foot. Eventually she is operated on, and after that she can move about a bit better. She still has to rely on others, however -- including Julien, with whom she falls in love, even as they have to be apart much of the time, as he too has to be careful of running afoul of the authorities given his record (as it turns out, too, he has a lot more going on in his life).
       Painfully closely autobiographical -- indeed, Sarrazin would marry Julien (his actual name), and die soon later on the operating table (her doctors were found guilty of negligence, receiving a suspended sentence and fine, but Julien was awarded only a token franc in compensation) -- Astragal is a gush of writing, a young author still caught up in her own (limited) experience and unable to move much beyond it. The mix of tension (will the police come knocking ? will the leg be lost ?) and boredom as she waits in hiding make for some decent narrative tension, but there's not that much to the story itself. What there is, however, is a hell of a voice.
       Anne seems aware of her limitations:

I was bursting with images anyhow: I'd been locked up much too young to have seen much of anything, and I'd read a lot, dreamed and lost the thread. For me, reality was distorted like everything else
       Impulsive, driven, and focused so on herself, Anne is very much a young character, still trying to figure things out -- and slowly learning a bit about herself and the world:
     I used to be pampered, petted, fussed over, too, in the old days: I was intact and able to bite, my cupboard was full and my claws were ingenious.
     My equipment was destroyed, I am wounded and begging, and it's I now who offers herself and clings; people don't hold onto me at all, for I have nothing to give them but myself, myself naked, and it will take a lot of time and tenderness before some resource, some source springs up in me.
       In her Introduction Patti Smith writes about discovering this book when she was in her early-twenties, and how significant it was for her, and one can understand what she saw in it. The sheer energy of Astragal -- but also how all the confusion of being that age is presented -- make a strong impression. There's some excitement to the story -- the fugitive lifestyle, love on the run -- but it's youthful and rather empty adventure; Sarrazin's book is a cut above average as far as this sort of thing goes because she really was bursting with talent. Everything is raw here, but even that works well for this particular novel. Yes, it's mired much too much in Sarrazin's own life-story -- but it suggests a tremendous amount of potential beyond that; too bad she was never able to get there.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 June 2013

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Astragal: Reviews: Astragal - the film: Albertine Sarrazin: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       French-Algerian author Albertine Sarrazin lived 1937 to 1967.

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