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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Mountain R

Jacques Jouet

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Mountain R

Title: Mountain R
Author: Jacques Jouet
Genre: Novel
Written: 1996 (Eng. 2004)
Length: 147 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Mountain R - US
Mountain R - UK
Mountain R - Canada
La montagne R - Canada
La montagne R - France
La montagna R - Italia
  • French title: La montagne R
  • Translated by Brian Evenson

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Our Assessment:

B : clever, and nicely pulled together, but not quite substantial enough

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
American Book Review . 9-10/2004 Kevin Canfield
Bookforum . Spring/2004 Nicole Rudick
The LA Times . 29/2/2004 Susan Salter Reynolds
Publishers Weekly . 2/2/2004 .
World Lit. Today . Summer/1996 Warren Motte

  From the Reviews:
  • "Jacques Jouet, with the help of a vivacious translation, pokes timeless fun at the pomp and arrogance of politicians, the often symbolic irrelevance of government and the depressing reduction of history to anecdote. There's a hollow, cynical echo emanating from this French novel that makes Andre Malraux look cheerful." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Jouet's short satirical novel is an innovative melding of genres -- part play and part novella -- that entirely succeeds in roping the reader in despite its unconventional structure." - Warren Motte, World Literature Today

  • "The fundamental conceit of the story is simple enough yet engagingly droll (...) National monuments, like novels, dig their foundations in the human imagination; yet in politics, as in literature, things are very rarely what we first imagine them to be." - 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:

       Mountain R is a three-part novel about a monumental undertaking -- the building, from scratch, of a 1500 metre tall mountain. The three parts are snapshots from different points of time: in the first the project is announced; in the second the project has collapsed, and a daughter interviews her father who worked on the construction site, while in the third a writer is a witness at the trial of those responsible for the project.
       The first section is titled "The Speech", as the president of the Republican Council addresses the house of representatives. The novel is set in an unnamed country, identified only as the 'Republic', but recognisable as a warped version of France, more or less. Things aren't going well in the Republic, but the president believes a project on this grand scale can solve everything:

The competitiveness lost by generations of political maneuverers who today are grumbling is to be reignited from the spark of Mountain R.
       The second part, "The Construction Site", takes place years later, after the project has come to a halt, unfinished. A daughter, apparently working for some Americans, has been sent to interview her father, who had a fairly prominent position in the construction of Mountain R. The man describes the logistics of building the mountain, and the problems: just piling material 1500 metres high wasn't really feasible, and even finding material proved more difficult than imagined. It becomes clear that short-cuts were taken, that cheap immigrant labour was being used (and abused). There was also a disaster, and the true extent of that is also only eventually revealed.
       The man who worked on the site -- getting his position through inside government contacts, a favour repaid -- was a true believer in the grandiose project, even as he saw the corruption (and, to some extent, took part in it). In his explanations to his daughter, and the ever less convincing arguments for the obscenity that the Mountain R project became, one gets a good sense of how out of control the gargantuan ill-advised idea became -- the ultimate failed big government, public works project.
       In the final section, "The Trial", it is the legal system that is trying to apportion blame and punish the malfeasors. This section is only a "short excerpt", from the 78th day of the proceedings. The witness is an author, who was hired to compose:
a work of fiction which would borrow its material (all its material, nothing but its material) from the conception and realization of the project.
       The government paid him very well for this endeavour, but like the mountain itself it was never completed. (It is no coincidence, presumably, that Jouet's Mountain R is also only a fragmentary novel, three pieces that feel more like slivers of a whole than a whole itself.)
       As someone with insider knowledge and a privileged position in observing the day-to-day goings-on during the construction of Mountain R the author is grilled on his contacts and who and what he knew. Again, more pieces fall into place, information that fills out the previous two sections and makes clearer what happened, and why. (It is also only here that the woman interviewer from the previous section is identified by name, as a Miss Muratore.)
       Each section ostensibly offers dialogue: the first consists mainly of the president's speech, but there is some give and take in the chamber where he speaks, a few interruptions. The second is an interview, the third the questioning of the author by the public prosecutor. Each, however, is more charged confrontation than dialogue, as the the characters talk past one another, each bent only on preserving their own point of view and not very receptive to the arguments of the other.
       Jouet builds the story up nicely: the collapse of the project, from its inauspicious beginnings, is well-presented, the after-the-fact approach an effective one here. The somewhat elusive style and roundabout unfolding of what story there is, as well as the fact that much is left unsaid may not appeal to all readers, but Jouet's clever and often amusing presentation (as all the while greater and greater horrors are revealed) makes for an engaging read over the relatively short space of the novel.

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Mountain R: Reviews: OuLiPo: Other books by Jacques Jouet under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Jacques Jouet was born in 1947 and elected to the Oulipo in 1983.

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