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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Minor Angels

Antoine Volodine

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To purchase Minor Angels

Title: Minor Angels
Author: Antoine Volodine
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2004)
Length: 171 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Minor Angels - US
Minor Angels - UK
Minor Angels - Canada
Des anges mineurs - Canada
Minor Angels - India
Des anges mineurs - France
Angeli minori - Italia
Ángeles menores - España
  • French title: Des anges mineurs
  • Translated and with a Preface by Jordan Stump

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Our Assessment:

B- : compelling pieces and structure, but doesn't amount to enough

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Libération . 2/9/1999 Didier Wagneur
Le Monde . 1/10/1999 Jean-Luc Douin
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Summer/2005 Tim Feeney
World Literature Today D Winter2001 Donald J. Dziekowicz

  From the Reviews:
  • "Volodineís characters struggle against humankindís demise, managing to cling to their full names and little else, and in the process they reveal their compelling histories and strange presents" - Tim Feeney, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "In his rebellion against traditional narrative styles, Volodine borders on the pretentious. His attempt to create a new reader consciousness has an alienating effect not only by the overlapping of narrators but also by the often vile imagery that permeates this work. Although there are some rare poetic moments reminiscent of Baudelaire's prose poems, one is ultimately left with a feeling of total loss and futility on both an esthetic and a human level." - Donald J. Dziekowicz, World Literature Today

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:

       Antoine Volodine's Minor Angels is presented in 49 short chapters, each except the middle one (25) paired in a sense with another (1 with 49, 2 with 48, etc.). Forty-nine 'minor angels' run through the text, each given as one chapter-heading, though many resurface in a number of episodes. Volodine calls what he presents: "narracts" -- "the trace left by an angel", he explained in a preamble to the French edition that Stump quotes in his preface. They are episodes and stories, or mere glimpses of life in this world he has created.
       Minor Angels is set in a quasi-post-apocalyptic world. Disaster struck centuries earlier, and humanity was decimated. The environmental and social effects are still being felt. Volodine doesn't describe what happened, but mentions such as "back when there was an Africa" suggest a major catastrophe.
       It is also an unreal new world, filled with century-old women destined never to die. Lamenting "the sad fact that humanity had now entered upon the more-or-less final stage of its fading", the old women come up with a plan: to "assemble the avenger the world so desperately needed." This figure -- put together from rags and bits of lint, becomes Will Scheidmann.
       Will isn't everything they hoped for: he brings back capitalism, an apparently frowned-upon solution to the troubles of the times. Eventually he is tried and sentenced to be executed, but in this world even execution isn't simply accomplished ("Will Scheidmann's execution had been underway for three weeks", we learn at one point).
       Will's story is one of the central ones in the book; other prominent figures include the writer Fred Zenfl (who writes stories about the extinction of his species) and any number of characters whose lives intersect -- though not always in obvious ways. It is a very dreamy novel, allowing for the many surreal touches, and it's no surprise to learn from one character, for example:

As on every sixteenth of October for what will soon be one thousand one hundred and eleven years, I dreamt last night that I was named Will Scheidmann, even though my name is Clementi, Maria Clementi.
       Some of this is absolutely bewitching, as Volodine beautifully conjures up this bleak world with small, sharp images, but much is confounding. There are certain events around which the text focusses -- not quite a plot, but enough to provide some hold -- but the dream-reality convergence, and, especially, the lack of sense of time can leave the reader at sea.
       The individual scenes and chapters -- the 'narracts' -- are often compelling, but the book does not come together comfortably. What narrative structure there is is clever, but does not ultimately offer enough to make the book truly gripping. An interesting but not entirely (or satisfyingly) successful exercise.

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Minor Angels: Reviews: Other books by Antoine Volodine under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       French author Antoine Volodine was born in 1950.

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