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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Jacques Jouet

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To purchase Upstaged

Title: Upstaged
Author: Jacques Jouet
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 87 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Upstaged - US
Upstaged - UK
Upstaged - Canada
La Scéne usurpèe - Canada
Upstaged - India
La Scéne usurpèe - France
  • French title: La Scéne usurpèe
  • Translated by and with an Afterword by Leland de la Durantaye

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Our Assessment:

B+ : droll, enjoyable

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Upstaged is an extremely short novel (in his Afterword -- whose seventeen pages help pad the slim volume -- Leland de la Durantaye mentions that: "Jouet insists that he doesn't write novellas, just shorter and longer novels"), but it still feels quite full. The story that is related is inspired, as the narrator recounts a performance of a play during which one of the main actors is taken out of commission during the brief break between the first two (of three acts), an unknown stranger taking his place when the action resumes. This stand-in -- the Usurper (as they came to call him) -- then disappears just as suddenly, leaving the others to try to get things back on track again in the third act.
       The narrator is the director's assistant for this national theater company -- his factotum (or Factota, as she is sometimes called ("which, linguistically speaking, is idiotic, but, well, there you go")). She attempts to provide a neutral documentary account (indeed, at one point she sees her role as that of camerawoman) -- without taking sides or assigning blame, as she emphasizes:

So to be as absolutely explicit as possible: this document is offered with no other aim than the edification of a noble profession.
       What unfolds is, however, very bizarre -- and seems all the more so, given how plainly the events are related.
       De la Durantaye notes that many of Jouet's works belong to his 'La République roman'-series, which share: "a republican ardor of a special sort". In the case of Upstaged, the play being performed is a political one: the usurped role is that of a rebel, the "Republican Théodore Soufissis", while one of the things that happens in the play is that the President of the Republican Council disguises himself and ventures out in public "to take the pulse of the people, as it were". When the Usurper hijacks the role of Soufissis he also doesn't play along quite the way things were written (and, by the way, the play was written by the man directing it), leading the play in a different direction; when he abandons the play and the actor he had put out of commission returns to the stage events also necessitate a switching of roles, adding to the identity- and role-confusion.
       The play -- and how it unfolds for this performance -- takes on these and other political undertones and echoes, as is also noted by the critic in attendance (who naturally writes for a paper called The Morning Republic); his review is also included in the text, presenting an (also amusing) interpretation of events by someone not privy to what went on behind the scenes.
       Upstaged is a beautifully composed story that is both theatrical farce and playfully political and philosophical. Who the Usurper was, or why he did what he did (and then also disappeared just as suddenly) remains a mystery, but even -- or especially -- beyond that, Upstaged is a very enjoyable puzzler.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 April 2011

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Upstaged: 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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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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