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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Reunion

Guillaume Musso

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To purchase The Reunion

Title: The Reunion
Author: Guillaume Musso
Genre: Novel
Written: 2018 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 288 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Reunion - US
The Reunion - UK
The Reunion - Canada
La jeune fille et la nuit - Canada
La jeune fille et la nuit - France
Die junge Frau und die Nacht - Deutschland
La ragazza e la notte - Italia
La huella de la noche - España
  • French title: La jeune fille et la nuit
  • Translated by Frank Wynne

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Our Assessment:

B : over the top -- mostly quite enjoyably --, but morally ... uncomfortable

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 19/7/2019 Laura Wilson
Irish Times . 15/6/2019 Declan Hughes

  From the Reviews:
  • "Thereís a cartoonish amount of melodrama as the complicated relationships, tragic misunderstandings, bodies and culprits pile up, but itís a fun read, spiced with pop-cultural references." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "Itís all very French then, romantic and pretentious and borderline silly, but hugely enjoyable and beautifully staged, with an audacious authorial coup at the death that is simply breathtaking." - Declan Hughes, Irish Times

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:

       The Reunion is mostly narrated by Thomas Degalais, an author who very much resembles author Musso himself, from his enormous success -- "I had written a dozen novels that had been translated into twenty languages and sold millions of copies all over the world" -- to the year (though admittedly not day) of their births (1974). So much so that Musso is at pains to explain, at some length, in a disclaimer-Author's Note (that comes at the end, rather than the beginning of the novel) that: "The narrator is not the writer". Still, Musso is working at least in part close to home -- including with the setting, where he and his protagonist grew up, on the Côte d'Azur.
       Now US-based, Thomas decides to attend the 25th reunion of his old high school (which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, as well), the elite Lycée International Saint-Exupéry -- "the pinnacle of academic institutions in Alpes-Maritimes". Not that he has all that much school spirit, or all that great memories, much less friends from those days. But one thing does haunt and hover over him: the disappearance of a classmate of his, whom he was hopelessly in love with, Vinca Rockwell -- who apparently ran off with then twenty-seven-year-old philosophy teacher Alexis Clément, with whom, it seems, she had been having a secret affair. Smitten Thomas still is in the hold of that lost beauty who, he maintains: "was not your average teenage girl; she was sophisticated, vibrant, witty" -- though others will paint rather a different picture of her. And Thomas was also one of the few people on the snowbound campus that 20 December 1992 when Vinca and the teacher who was assumed to be her lover disappeared.
       As Thomas quickly makes clear, there's more than he's letting on to this story, even just as far as the very limited part he is actually in the know about -- and his role in some of these events threaten to come back with a vengeance, ready to take both Thomas and his friend Maxime down:

     "We have to do something," my old friend said again.
     I knew he was kidding himself. The bomb that was now threatening to blow our lives apart was one that we had built ourselves one night in 1992.
     We both knew there was no way to defuse it.
       So Thomas goes into the reunion certain that in a few week's time his life as he knows it will be over. When he and others get notes promising 'revenge' on them, he is even more certain. And as events proceed, it varyingly looks like his life will be really over or really over. But he remains coy about what exactly the problem is, and what that misstep from a quarter century ago was, only slowly dosing out the information he has -- to which are added, in rapid succession, stunning odds and ends that surface as he starts digging around -- some of which make what he was involved with begin to look like small potatoes .....
       It all, of course, has to do with Vinca's disappearance. And since Thomas is so obsessed by the mystery surrounding it -- and, indeed, convinced (or at least trying always very, very hard to convince himself) that she is still alive -- anything terrible he might have done back then wouldn't seem to directly involve her. But ... well, convoluted doesn't begin to describe what went down (and what has now come up) here.
       Musso annoyingly begins the novel with back-and-forth chapters that switch between 2017 and 1992, with the 2017 scenes actually from late in the contemporary half of the story -- a preview of one of the climaxes, complete with corpse with a face: "beaten to a bloody pulp" (so we know, from early on, that somebody pays ... for something). It's one of the victims of this chain of events that turns out to be far more complex than Thomas had imagined. Yes, he and Maxime are in very real danger of having what they did in 1992 be exposed and come crashing down on them -- but that isn't even close to just the half of it.
       Among the discoveries Thomas makes is that the woman who has been pining for him all these years -- who was also on campus that fateful December night --, a former classmate who is now head of cardiology at the local hospital, Fanny Brahimi, has been carrying her own terrible burden with her all these years. She finally bares her soul to Thomas, and that would seem to clear up a lot of the questions -- except instead it points to an even more complicated scenario. The kids -- Thomas and his buddy Maxime, as well as Fanny, turn out to only be privvy to a slice of the information -- what they were involved with -- and extrapolate far too easily from this.
       The twists are almost comic in their absurdity, but that's certainly also part of the fun of this shamelessly over the top novel. The what-happened-to-Vinca resolution, and the why -- and the way several other people were involved in all that -- is beyond silly -- but amusingly enough so. Thomas can get a bit ponderous along the way -- well, you know: "In my search for Vinca, I was also -- perhaps especially -- investigating himself". And true to form, Musso lets Thomas learn some surprising truths about himself by the end. (Along with him not entirely willing to give up his fantasy that Vinca is still alive, which he wants to cling onto.) A final turn in the will-they-be-outed(-and-for-what) takes one unbelievable turn too many after Thomas had confessed all to a journalist, but by that point readers are presumably willing to accept anything .
       The far-fetched story -- and its many incredible twists, one after the other -- is hard to believe, but at least reasonably entertainingly knotted and layered and then explained. Problematic, however, is how many of the characters lash out unthinkingly, almost at the drop of a hat, acting out impulsively. Even adult Thomas doesn't seem to have learned much, as he rushes around non-stop (and into things, headlong), rarely taking the time to deliberate. Several characters do very, very bad things -- as in kill people -- or are convinced they have done bad things, and get off with nothing more than a guilty conscience; one person who winds up in prison is not one who belongs there (for that crime -- though the person certainly has some behavior to answer for over the decades) while those that are guilty as sin pay in more basic ways -- or just get away with. There's little here that is morally ambiguous; some of what plays out is simply, downright wrong. So The Reunion does, or should, leave rather a sour aftertaste to it; Musso presumably argues for penance served
       Musso knows his stuff -- and how to play the audience -- well enough to keep readers engaged, curious, and amused, but The Reunion often feels too rushed and busy. Thomas really needs to sit back and think things over more carefully (and he should have, back in his teenage days, too). But presumably with such an absurdly complicated set-up/situation, blasting through it is the only way it can even appear to hold up. And, for all its flaws, The Reunion is quite entertaining.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 August 2019

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The Reunion: Reviews: Guillaume Musso: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Guillaume Musso was born in 1974.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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