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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

To Write on Tamara ?

Marcel Bénabou

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To purchase To Write on Tamara ?

Title: To Write on Tamara ?
Author: Marcel Bénabou
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2004)
Length: 175 pages
Original in: French
Availability: To Write on Tamara ? - US
To Write on Tamara ? - UK
To Write on Tamara ? - Canada
Écrire sur Tamara - Canada
To Write on Tamara ? - India
Écrire sur Tamara - France
  • French title: Écrire sur Tamara
  • Translated by Steven Rendall

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a good mix of literary game and Bildungsroman

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/2004 Chad W. Post
World Lit. Today . Summer-Fall/2002 Warren Motte

  From the Reviews:
  • "Although neither as obsessive nor as stylistically complex as his earlier books, To Write on Tamara is a fantastic addition to Bénabou’s oeuvre." - Chad W. Post, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "At certain moments the book resembles a novel, at others a memoir or a confession, at still others an autofiction; and it shortly becomes clear that such resistance is deliberately calculated by the author, integrated in the text as one of its structural principles. For the different discursive conventions in the novel vex and ironize each other in systematic ways, calling each other into question, questioning through that very process the way books are written -- and the way they are read." - Warren Motte, 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:

       After a brief preamble, To Write on Tamara ? is presented in twenty-two alternating chapters (and one last small section). The author explains in the preamble that he has tried to write on Tamara for thirty years, and this book gathers the accumulated bits. The book that follows is, however, not a mess of occasional jottings, but fairly neatly tied up, recounting several years from the narrator Manuel's life, and his relationship with Tamara.
       What is most striking about the narrative is that it skips back and forth in perspective. Many chapters offer sections from a novel Manuel tried to write at the time and in the years that followed, a third-person account of those years and of Tamara that is itself a relic of the 1950s and 60s. Other chapters are set in the here and now, Manuel addressing the reader, commenting on what he wrote decades earlier and offering commentary, criticism -- and additional memories of those years, written now from an entirely different perspective.
       Manuel's story is a simple one: he comes to Paris from Morocco in the late 1950s to study. He's relatively isolated, until he meets a girl with whom he strikes up a friendship. She eventually introduces him to her friend, Tamara, and the three of them explore Paris together -- going to the theatre and that sort of thing. Manuel is immediately smitten by Tamara, but for a long time the relationship remains entirely platonic. After their first kiss he doesn't hear from her for ages -- but eventually they find each other again. Still: it is not a romantic relationship that is meant to be.
       To Write on Tamara ? is a Bildungsroman in which first love and passion play a prominent role. But it is as much about intellectual awakening fostered by that passion: literature rising from the page, appreciating theatre and learning about politics in the way that happens in the company of others (rather than the solitary enjoyment Manuel found in it previously).
       Writing is one way of capturing experience for Manuel: even before he met Tamara he wrote long letters to his sister about what he was going through. Tamara inspires him further -- hence the desire to write a novel. The older Manuel -- who assumes the role of reader in addition to writer as he looks back at these exercises from decades earlier -- is more mature and suspicious, wondering both about the value (and feasibility) of the exercise and the reliability of the text (though generally insisting his younger self got it right, and only criticising how he chose to present the material). Yet he also offers his memories to fill in detail, memories which are surely coloured by the intervening time. He also repeatedly suggests a specific interpretation of the earlier texts on the reader.
       To Write on Tamara ? covers a span of several years, and Tamara is not at the heart of all of it. Other experiences, including dorm life, Manuel's success and failure at his studies, and several other people in his life are also covered, making it a decent, quick, rounded description of a young man's life in Paris in those years. Full of literary allusions (many of which are explained in a Notes-section added for the English translation), the text is also playful, but hardly annoyingly so. When Manuel addresses the reader, he doesn't impose or expect too much (as he generally quickly loses himself in his own musings about the past again).
       A brief appendix comes as something of a surprise: titled "The Green Notebook", it offers brief notes and jottings that appear to be Tamara's, neatly coinciding with the period Manuel has related. The sudden inversion -- everything seen again (if much more compactly) through her eyes, rather than Manuel's -- is striking. It is also ambiguous, as readily interpreted as another of Manuel's fictions, a completely different approach (imagining seeing everything through her eyes), that is the final, successful attempt to write on Tamara.

       An enjoyable fiction, both simply as a description of student life in the late 1950s and early 1960s and as a clever (but not obsessively so) literary game.

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To Write on Tamara ?: Marcel Bénabou: OuLiPo: Other books by Marcel Benabou under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Oulipo books at the complete review
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       Marcel Bénabou is a member of the OuLiPo and has written several books.

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© 2004-2021 the complete review

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