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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Adrien Bosc

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To purchase Constellation

Title: Constellation
Author: Adrien Bosc
Genre: Novel
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 171 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Constellation - US
Constellation - UK
Constellation - Canada
Constellation - Canada (French)
Constellation - France
Morgen früh in New York - Deutschland
Prendere il volo - Italia
  • French title: Constellation
  • Translated by Willard Wood
  • Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française, 2014

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Our Assessment:

B : effective revisiting of a plane crash

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 14/8/2016 Nancy Kline
Publishers Weekly . 14/3/2016 .
The Spectator . 19/11/2016 Keith Miller
TLS . 28/9/2016 Jude Cook
Wall St. Journal A+ 27/5/2016 Liel Leibovitz

  From the Reviews:
  • "Zero Hour ! as written by a young French intellectual. The good news: no indigestion. The bad: no Hollywood ending. (...) Bosc has done his research, and he loves his lists" - Nancy Kline, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(T)he authorís metacommentary transforms the narrative into a profound meditation on the far-reaching interconnectedness of tragic events." - Publishers Weekly

  • "It does a fair job of knitting the known into the unknown, hopping from seat to seat like a solicitous flight attendant, shifting pace and perspective, throwing some metaphorical flesh on to the bare bones of what remains an unsolved tragedy" - Keith Miller, The Spectator

  • "The narrative breaks off at every chapter to explore these doomed lives, deepening a sense of each individualís unique existence. The spare and commanding prose is kept in abeyance until the plane is lost (.....) If Boscís own authorial voice enters too late for it to be fully convincing, the novelís central metaphor of the constellations -- of finding meaning and augury in the stars when only the arbitrary can be observed -- makes this short book a concentrated joy." - Jude Cook, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Like all great novels, Constellation works in ever expanding circles. (...) Any way you choose to read this slim and marvelous work, its pleasures abound." - Liel Leibovitz, Wall Street Journal

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:

       Constellation is a documentary novel of sorts. It centers on the 1949 crash of Air France flight F-BAZN, in which all 37 passengers and 11 crew members perished. Bosc alternates chapters between descriptions of the flight and then the crash's aftermath and background chapters about the passengers.
       The crash of the Lockheed Constellation is a fairly famous one; among the chapter-epigraphs Bosc uses, for example, is one from Gerrges Perec's I Remember:

I remember that Ginette Neveu died in the same airplane as Marcel Cerdan.
       Violinist Neveu and boxer Cerdan -- hurrying to New York at the behest of his lover, Édith Piaf, before his rematch against Jake LaMotta -- were just two of the relatively famous passengers on the flight. As Bosc notes (and as the passenger-to-crew ratio suggests), at the time: "Airplane flight is a luxury", and only unusual circumstances led to six working class passengers also being onboard. The rest were rather better-to-do, and included figures such as merchandising whiz Kay Kamen, who was repsonsible for much of the early success of the Walt Disney company with his licensing arrangements.
       Bosc chronicles the flight precisely but fairly quickly, noting relevant information and comfortably filling in background but not going into too much detail or (over-)analyzing anything. (Nevertheless, there are some questions about some of this precision: Bosc claims sixty thousand flight hours for pilot Jean de la Noüe on the night of the flight; present-day American regulations restrict pilots to all of a thousand flight hours a year, and even back in the day it can't have been easy to accumulate that much more annually; given that de la Noüe was still a very young thirty-seven at the time of the crash it is difficult to believe he could already have had more flight hours under his belt than almost any pilot has ever accumulated over their entire (much longer) career.)
       The transatlantic flight -- it would have been de la Noüe's eighty-ninth -- required several refueling stops, and because of bad weather reports the pilot chose not to go the usual route over Shannon, Ireland, but rather via the Azores -- which is where the fatal accident happened. Without a black box (technology that wasn't available at the time), it's impossible to be certain what caused the crash, but Bosc follows first the flight -- to the extent known -- and then then the crash investigation, providing what information could be gathered.
       Bosc even comes to the fore in his own story, describing how he conducted some of his research and printing, for example, an e-mail exchange with the son one of the passengers: "My name is Adrien Bosc, I am working on the plane crash F-BAZN Constellation", he introduced himself. It makes for a novel that veers far (if only occasionally) into the personal and documentary -- similar to Laurent Binet's HHhH and apparently a popular approach in current French (not-quite-)fiction.
       With its short chapters, crash (and aftermath) drama, and colorful cast of characters, Constellation is certainly an engaging, lively read, and Bosc has gathered an often fascinating set of facts (and speculation). Occupying an odd space between factual and fiction, with Bosc not committing fully to either, it nevertheless remains somewhat unsatisfying and, despite being an effective (historic-)plane-crash-story, feels a bit pointless. Bosc presents his story well -- the events and people are described well -- but it also feels rather casual, magazine-story-writing and not really a full-fledged novel (or complete documentary account). There's a lot of fine writing here, but little sense of imagination.
       It does make good reading, but feels a bit of a cheat, the novelist clinging closely -- almost entirely -- to facts for the entire work, but still claiming the liberties of the fiction-writer where it's convenient.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 May 2016

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Constellation: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Adrien Bosc was born in 1986.

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