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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Antoine Volodine

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To purchase Writers

Title: Writers
Author: Antoine Volodine
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 108 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Writers - US
Writers - UK
Writers - Canada
Écrivains - Canada
Writers - India
Écrivains - France
Scrittori - Italia
  • French title: Écrivains
  • Translated by Katina Rogers

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing writer-fictions

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Lire . 15/9/2010 Baptiste Liger
Le Monde . 30/9/2010 Nils C. Ahl
Publishers Weekly . 1/9/2014 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dans cet excellent recueil de nouvelles (présenté par l'éditeur comme un roman), Antoine Volodine nous raconte le destin, souvent tragique, de quelques plumes atypiques. (...) Bref, on tient là le meilleur de Volodine : son imagination semble intarissable, et tout l'aspect théorique de son projet est transcendé par un humour absurde, ce qui fait de ce texte l'un des plus accessibles de son auteur." - Baptiste Liger, Lire

  • "Despite the murkiness of Volodine's literary mission, his textured portraits are convincing and well-rendered, and he has written the type of open-ended work that will capture the attention of lovers of lit crit as fiction." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       Writers was published in the French original as a novel ('roman'), but even Dalkey Archive Press, usually open to most any form of genre-stretching, demurred here, opting merely for some back-cover copy that describes the book as consisting of: "seven loosely interlocking stories". Loose is right -- there's some suggestion of overlap of characters and work, but little obvious connection -- but then this is a book by Antoine Volodine, whose entire œuvre at first seems disjointed and yet must be considered part of a 'body of work'. In particular, Volodine stretches the usual writing bounds by assuming different authorial identities: like Pessoa, he's adopted a number of heteronyms (and, indeed, 'Antoine Volodine' itself is a pseudonym) -- notably Lutz Bassmann and Manuela Draeger.
       In Writers, too, identity is rarely fixed: writing about a Linda Woo, suddenly:

     She takes on the voice of Maria Iguacel. Suddenly she is Maria Iguacel. So am I.
       In a way, Writers is Volodine-in-miniature: variations on themes and identities, with similarities and overlap but never making it too easy or obvious -- as in, for example, ascribing An Autumn at the Boyols' to one of the subjects of the book, and A Meeting at the Boyols' to another. His work as a whole -- and often individually, as also in this instance -- is more like a finely spun spider-web, the gossamer threads barely visible, but an intricate connected design there nevertheless.
       Writers essentially offers seven separate pieces on the lives of a variety of writers, the summary-approach differing in the pieces, most notably in 'Acknowledgments', which takes the form of a writer thanking those who have supported him and his work over the years. Several of the authors are killers, though generally of those who arguably deserve to die -- Mathias Olbane "assassinated assassins", as did Linda Woo ("assassins who had indirectly killed hundreds of thousands and even millions of people").
       Volodine has termed his writing 'post-exotic', and this features here as well; in 'Speech to the Nomads and to the Dead' Linda Woo gives an impassioned speech about this movement -- noting, too:
Their murmurs have ended up fashioning collective books with no clear claims of authorship. They have set themselves to ruminating on promises not kept and they have invented worlds where failure is as systematic and stinging as it is in what you call the real world.
       Volodine's books are all such murmur -- and here many of the authors are, indeed, abject failures ("it had a print run of a thousand copies and sold just under forty" (and the next book does even worse ...)).
       Volodine even looks ahead -- though here, too, retrospectively: 'The Strategy of Silence in the Work of Bogdan Tarassiev' looks back on the career of Tarassiev from the 23rd century, fifty years after the death of the writer who: "started his career as an author in 2017". (Typically, too, Tarassiev started that career: "under the name of Jean Balbaïan, by publishing a crime novel series".)
       Long periods of silence aren't unusual among these writers, either: Tarassiev: "kept quiet for twenty-three years", while Olbane spends years simply formulating: "lists of imaginary terms, such as names of plants, names of persecuted or exterminated peoples, or quite simply made-up names of camp victims". Conventional narrative isn't the primary interest of Volodine's writers -- or of Volodine, as Writers includes extended riffs on names and pseudonyms, titles, and events.
       These are finely crafted pieces. Volodine is a thoughtful and precise writer, and there's an elegance to these stories. There's a great deal of humor, too -- mainly in artistic failure. The difficulty with the work is, as with most of Volodine's work, it feels like a sliver of a much larger whole, and too much of it -- the cross-references and meanings -- remains obscured. Volodine heaps on the references -- dozens of (imagined) author names, just for one -- and it can be difficult to separate wheat from chaff (further complicated by the sneaking suspicion that most of the hidden meaning is to be found in the chaff).
       Somewhat hard to appreciate as a whole, Writers nevertheless often feels very rewarding: there's pleasure in the texts themselves, and there's a sense of a much larger whole, which, with more effort, might slowly be grasped.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 August 2014

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Writers: Reviews: Other books by Antoine Volodine under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Antoine Volodine was born in 1950.

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