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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

All Souls Day

Cees Nooteboom

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To purchase All Souls Day

Title: All Souls Day
Author: Cees Nooteboom
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998 (Eng. 2001)
Length: 399 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: All Souls Day - US
All Souls Day - UK
All Souls Day - Canada
Le Jour des morts - France
Allerseelen - Deutschland
  • Dutch title: Allerzielen
  • Translated by Susan Massotty

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid, well-done novel, weighed down by its vagueness

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 25/3/2002 Andrew Riemer
The Guardian D 5/1/2002 Julie Myerson
The LA Times . 4/12/2001 Michael Harris
Neue Zürcher Zeitung B 15/4/1999 Angelika Overath
The NY Times Book Rev. . 23/12/2001 Emily Hall
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Summer/2002 Robert Buckeye
TLS A 30/11/2001 Michael Caines
The Washington Post . 18/11/2001 Thomas McGonigle
Die Zeit A (9/1999) Ulrich Greiner

  From the Reviews:
  • "All Souls' Day is a quintessentially European novel. (...) Readers would be well advised to have a comprehensive encyclopaedia to hand. More than once I found myself annoyed by the novel's slide into pretentiousness. But Nooteboom is, I suspect, somewhat more canny. Though he is obviously beguiled by the kind of talk that occupies acres of his novel, he registers its limitations" - Andrew Riemer, The Age

  • "It's clear that Nooteboom knows more than enough about art, philosophy, semantics and the whole onanistic malarkey, but the effect of his prose is so blindingly didactic that you quickly feel you would pay good money to have someone smile or burp or drop something or talk about anything other than the reunification of Germany or the iconography of late German romanticism." - Julie Myerson, The Guardian

  • "Still, talk is talk, and even the best thinking isn't necessarily drama. We can give Nooteboom credit for vivid and concrete description, for his ease in crossing Europe's national and cultural borders; we can allow that European readers may have more tolerance for philosophizing in their fiction than we do. Nonetheless, Elik doesn't arrive a page too soon." - Michael Harris, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Cees Nooteboom richtet mit aller Konsequenz die Erzählhaltung auf einen Helden aus, der sich dem Dasein verweigert. Wenn der Roman scheitert, so scheitert er auf eine konsequente, sehr kunstvolle Weise. Nooteboom nimmt Arthurs teilnahmslose Wahrnehmung ernst. Er versucht, einen Text ohne Bodenhaftung zu schreiben." - Angelika Overath , Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "All Souls Day, which has been elegantly translated by Susan Massotty, is about history and the passage of time, and about a man's obsession with finding a method to chart the sights and sounds that happen and then disappear without a trace." - Emily Hall, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Size matters, but if All Souls Day is less a novel than a series of meditations (the meditation is often the basis of the fable), it also needs the weight novels provide for us to comprehend the pain of Daane and Elik’s lives; in this sense, it is a more powerful work than his fables." - Robert Buckeye, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "For the reader, any frustration at these indefatigable digressions is as nothing compared to the pleasures of catching their echoes. (...) (I)ts central meditation on the effects of intimacy and anonymity is its most moving theme. It is an outstanding addition to an impressive oeuvre." - Michael Caines, Times Literary Supplement

  • "In All Souls Day there is a little slackness, however, a little too much love of the triviality of the routine infecting even the marvelously sensitive population through which Noteboom sends his characters." - Thomas McGonigle, The Washington Post

  • "Am Ende verspürt man eine starke Trauer, und die ist vielleicht kein Genuß, aber ein Gewinn. Für einen Augenblick ist man imstande, der vergehenden Zeit ins Angesicht zu sehen, ohne den Fluch der Vergänglichkeit zu empfinden." - Ulrich Greiner, Die Zeit

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:

       In contrast to most of the slim volumes of Nooteboom's fiction that readers might be familiar with, All Souls Day is a fairly hefty tome. The additional space and time Nooteboom takes allows him to add substance to the novel; surprisingly, however, it seems no more precise and offers no more definitive answers than his earlier works. It is not a fault: Nooteboom's talents lie in suggestion, in sketching scenes (and lives) whose layers are not explicitly revealed but which the reader can make out through the authors words.
       All Souls Day is a Catholic holiday, celebrated November 2nd, on which one prays for the souls in purgatory. The central character in Nooteboom's novel is a Dutch documentary film director and cameraman, Arthur Daane, who lost his wife and son in a plane crash. Daane is still numbed by the terrible event, and in a sense it is he as much as they that is in a sort of purgatory, uncertain of where the future lies.
       Daane lives in post-unification Berlin, a city also trying to come to terms with its past and future. He takes jobs, either directing or handling the camera, whenever he needs the money or an interesting job is offered. On the side he also films for a vaguely defined project of his own.
       Daane has a group of friends who he regularly meets. Victor Leven is a sculptor, Zenobia Stejn a Russian physicist who also runs a small photo gallery, Arno Tieck a philosopher. They are a lonely group, each pursuing lives that may be intellectually or creatively interesting but leave them fairly isolated. The opening scenes of the book, in a terrible snowstorm, finds them coming together and then going apart, each an island in a vast expanse.
       Another friend, Erna, is Daane's main lifeline and help -- though at times she appears merely to be a convenient literary device, allowing for dialogue and bringing up certain subjects.
       Daane has no clear goals or ambitions. His wife and child's deaths haunt him, and have left him emotionally distant. As in the opening section, he wanders through much of the novel, fairly aimlessly.
       There is a change when he meets a young Dutch history student, Elik Oranje, working on her dissertation about a medieval Spanish queen, Urraca. Daane becomes obsessed with her, but she keeps him at a distance, even as something of a relationship develops. She does not give him her address or telephone number, and Daane wanders around seeking her out.
       Elik's queen and Daane's filming allow for digressions about history and the past, recapturing it in the present, and questions of what really matters.
       Elik and Daane both leave Berlin -- Daane for a film project, Elik to research her dissertation. Daane then goes to Spain, to seek Elik out, culminating in a dramatic (and fairly unexpected) finale.
       The narrative is also interrupted by anonymous otherworldly voices that do not identify themselves, a chorus that offers short commentaries on the events and circumstances in the novel.
       All Souls Day is not a love story. In the end Daane's friendships provide the support he needs, not the elusive Elik. Nevertheless, the lost souls of this novel remain fairly lost.
       There is a lot here that is good. Nooteboom sets many fine scenes, and there is both atmospheric description as well as some interesting philosophical discussion here. Nevertheless, the book is not entirely satisfying, not seeming to live up quite to its ambition. A worthwhile read, but not exceptional.

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All Souls Day: Reviews: Cees Nooteboom:
  • Other books by Cees Nooteboom under review: Other books of interest under review:
    • See Index of Dutch literature

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    About the Author:

           Dutch author Cees Nooteboom was born in 1933. He is a poet, novelist, and travel writer.

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