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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Corner of the Veil

Laurence Cossé

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To purchase A Corner of the Veil

Title: A Corner of the Veil
Author: Laurence Cossé
Genre: Novel
Written: 1996 (Eng. 1999)
Length: 269 pages
Original in: French
Availability: A Corner of the Veil - US
A Corner of the Veil - UK
A Corner of the Veil - Canada
Le coin du voile - Canada
Le coin du voile - France
Der Beweis - Deutschland
  • French title: Le coin du voile
  • Translated by Linda Asher
  • With a Foreword by Jack Miles

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Our Assessment:

C : promising premise, but falls flat

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times D 23/7/1999 Richard Eder
The NY Times Book Rev. . 1/8/1999 Erik Burns
VQR . Fall/1999 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "It is a witty thought in a novel, unfortunately, that aspires to a good deal more wit than it possesses. Both as philosophical game and as playful fantasy, A Corner of the Veil is fast-food, a quick-frozen amuse-gueule. (...) The main problem, though, is not what it is but that Ms. Cossé has been unable all along to make us really care." - Richard Eder, The New York Times

  • "Cossé's novel, deftly translated from the French by Linda Asher, takes us on a tumultuous ride through the Machiavellian worlds of modern French theology and political maneuvering." - Erik Burns, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(B)ewitching" - Virginia Quarterly Review

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:

       A Corner of the Veil has a promising premise: proof of the existence of (the Christian) God has been found ! It's all there in a six-page document:

This time the proof was neither arithmetical, nor physical, nor esthetical, nor astronomical; it was irrefutable. The proof of God's existence had been achieved.
       The proof is sent to the Casuists in Paris, and first read by Father Bertrand Beaulieu. He doesn't need a second opinion as to whether or not it's convincing, but he does immediately share it with a colleague, and they -- both transformed by their new-found sense of certainty -- then go to meet the local provincial (so his title, the equivalent of a father superior), Father Hubert Le Dangeolet, whose reaction is an interesting one: he refuses to read the proof. He does call in some experts, but after seeing their reactions once they've read the six pages he is even more determined not to have a look:
     Father Michalet had read the packet in three minutes and he had begun to weep tears of joy. Father Schmuckermann took the sheets from his hands, plunged into them in turn, and fell to his knees, ecstatic.
       The few who are made aware of the existence of this obviously convincing proof realize they have a problem on their hands. The consequences of certainty are not to be underestimated; indeed, they argue: "Doubt about the existence of God was the only formula viable for mankind".
       A Corner of the Veil is less concerned with the theological consequences than the practical ones; indeed, as the Church-men recognize, once God is in the house, as it were, and undeniable, there's little role left for the institution of the Church to play -- and little power left for those who are part of the institution -- yet another reason to hush things up.
       Once the politicians get wind of this (and lose the Prime Minister to the new-found knowledge) they think about what might happen and also don't like it one bit:
The predictions are alarming. The first effect would obviously be chaos.
    "Our complex, fragile economies will be turned upside down. Dazzled by God, men will have no further reason to keep working to make the machine turn the way it used to. The primacy of economic matters will crumble. Ninety percent of human undertakings will look foolish, meaningless, pathetic.
       Ah, yes, they'll be reduced to: "Frugality and prayer" -- and who wants that ?
       A Corner of the Veil is a thought-experiment dressed up as fiction, of the sort Pierre Boulle used to churn out. There's lots of talk and speculation, which is fine, and lots of pseudo-action, which isn't: people scurry hither and thither and arrange all sorts of meetings, the constant motion meant to suggest real action but never convincing: this is one of the least thrilling thrillers imaginable (despite a premise that would promise so much ...). Worst of all, Cossé (or at least her American publisher) divides the book into short little bursts, each started with a new otherwise blank page describing the time -- Thursday, 10:02 A.M. --, puffing up what is in fact a very thin book and giving the appearance of constant urgency while never delivering on it.
       Some of the speculation is clever and entertaining, but the book fails to really consider the ramifications with any seriousness -- it's all terribly superficial: philosophy/theology/politics super-lite. Add to that the fact that what action there is -- the cover-up ! the State ! the Church ! -- is very poorly done. Some bodies do pile up, but Dan Brown would at least have offered some thriller-action (preposterous, surely, but still); Cossé can't deliver any of the goods. And the writing is pretty poor too (very much in the Pierre Boulle tradition ...).
       An idea that would have seemed to have considerable potential, but all of it is poorly realized here. Disappointing.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 June 2009

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Reviews: Other books by Laurence Cossé under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books dealing with Religion
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Laurence Cossé was born in 1950.

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