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the Complete Review
the complete review - profiles / literature

Literary Miniatures

Florence Noiville

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To purchase Literary Miniatures

Title: Literary Miniatures
Author: Florence Noiville
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (2013)
Length: 179 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Literary Miniatures - US
Literary Miniatures - UK
Literary Miniatures - Canada
Literary Miniatures - India
  • These profiles originally appeared in Le Monde between 1994 and 2012
  • Translated and with a Note by Teresa Lavender Fagan

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Our Assessment:

B : solid small glimpses of an impressive collection of writers

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The National . 22/8/2013 Paul Muir
Outlook India . 28/7/2014 Satish Padmanabhan
The Times . 1/6/2013 Iain Finlayson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Literary Miniatures is a thoroughly worthwhile read for anyone wishing to become more intimately familiar with some of the finest writers of the past century." - Paul Muir, The National

  • "Noiville’s idea of a profile is very un-American or un-British in template and in style, so it’s never predictable, always effervescent." - Satish Padmanabhan, Outlook India

  • "UK readers will be familiar with writers such as John Le Carré, William Trevor, Kazuo Ishiguro and A. S. Byatt, but Europe and America (north and south) are equally well served by "renderings" of conversations that are simple without being superficial, amusing without being patronising. Imagine a smart New Yorker essay filtered through a fine French sensibility, and you’ll get it." - Iain Finlayson, The 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:

       Literary Miniatures collects profiles of twenty-seven authors (well, illustrators Sempé and Tomi Ungerer are among those who get the treatment) that Florence Noiville wrote for Le Monde between 1994 and 2012. Based on encounters with these authors, these are not verbatim Q & As; rather, as translator Teresa Lavender Fagan puts it in her introductory Note, they are Noiville's: "inspired renderings of the interviews she held with her subjects" -- the result then, as Noiville has it: "A condensed version of the person."
       It is an impressive line-up on offer here, skewing old (or dead, as in the case of Saul Bellow, Carlos Fuentes, and Harry Mulisch), male, and international (Jean-Bertrand Pontalis and Sempé are the only Frenchmen on offer, aside from now French-writing Milan Kundera). I count six Nobel laureates, including Kértesz Imre, Herta Müller, and Mario Vargas Llosa (the one author who gets the Noiville treatment twice). The non-Nobel line-up is solid too, including lots of contenders, from Aharon Appelfeld to Javier Marías, Cees Nooteboom, William Trevor, and Enrique Vila-Matas.
       In an interesting Introduction Noiville explains how she came to Le Monde -- a rather abrupt career transition from working as a financial analyst in Minneapolis in the 1980s. She mentions an early assignment in Buenos Aires, interviewing Adolfo Bioy Casares, an author she admits she was: "completely unfamiliar with" (which kind of makes you wonder about Le Monde, willing to fly a journalist to Argentina to interview him ...); frustratingly, the resulting profile is not included in this collection.
       The Kundera piece is the one that differs slightly from the others, the author who has not given any interviews for a quarter of a century agreeing to play along with Noiville by responding not directly, but through the use of select quotes from his work in print; this is the only piece presented in the traditional "Q & A" format -- even as it offers a very different variation on the usual form.
       These are newspaper profiles, and so there's a fair share of toe-curling descriptive embellishment ("He runs his hand through that Bacchus-like mass of salt-and-pepper hair"), but Noiville does provide quite interesting compact pictures of these authors as-they-are-now. The advanced age of many, and thus the position they've reached -- six of them already with the Nobel in their pockets -- makes for something of a grand-masters gallery, the significance of these sage old writers summed up in a few (often well-chosen) observations. Regrettably, there's little room for digging deeper; regrettably, too, the authors only get to have a small part of the say, as Noiville has to compress the encounters into newspaper-column length and thus does not quote extensively.
       The impressive range -- from Yu Hua to A.S.Byatt to John Le Carré, along with a few less-well-known authors such as Thanassis Valtinos -- alone makes Literary Miniatures worth dipping into. Yes, they remain miniatures and, yes, a few of the authors seem a bit of an odd fit, but its an enjoyable broad sweep across an interesting swath of the literary world.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 May 2013

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Reviews: Florence Noiville: Other books by Florence Noiville under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Florence Noiville works for Le Monde.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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