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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Supreme Orchestra

David Turgeon

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To purchase The Supreme Orchestra

Title: The Supreme Orchestra
Author: David Turgeon
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 193 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Supreme Orchestra - US
The Supreme Orchestra - UK
The Supreme Orchestra - Canada
Simone au travail - Canada
Simone au travail - France
  • French title: Simone au travail
  • Translated by Pablo Strauss

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable bauble, juggling a lot

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Devoir A- 23/9/2017 Dominic Tardif
Publishers Weekly B 24/9/2018 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Référentiel mais pas masturbatoire, amusant mais pas trop volontairement comique, digressif mais pas confus, Simone au travail est un voyage au pays d’un imaginaire plaçant son érudition, sa verve et sa folie au service du plus suave des plaisirs : celui qui élève l’intelligence." - Dominic Tardif, Le Devoir

  • "Deviously plotted and full of astutely wrought characters, the novel is by turns funny, frustrating, confusing, and exciting. (...) Turgeonís novel, despite the large cast and their even bigger personalities, remains a little too small." - Publishers Weekly

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 Supreme Orchestra is a three-part novel, most of it set in (presumably Canadian) Bruant, shifting in fairly short chapters between a number of characters whose paths and lives variously overlap. Much initially takes place in the local art milieu: Alban Wouters is a gallery-owner whose current show features drawings by Simone -- including of Faya, who has holed up for a while with thrice-married Simone in an intimate relationship that seems to be wearing a bit thin --; Pierre-Luc has an unrequited thing for Simone, teaches art, and has her come to his class as a visiting artist; Sarah-Jeanne is a promising artist in Pierre-Luc's class.
       The novel opens with a foreign character entering this scene: Fabrice Mansaré, here calling himself Charles Rose, comes to the gallery and purchases one of Simone's drawings, Faya, Sitting, 18/20. As the use of a pseudonym suggests, Fabrice Mansaré is something of a mystery man. He's also traveling on a diplomatic passport, and apparently working for -- or at least shadowed by -- a mysterious so-called Service. He has a job to do, and is told to lay low for a while, and not attract attention; the occasional "logistical hitch" he runs to is more or less efficiently dealt with by the Service. As is eventually revealed, Fabrice Mansaré has connections to politically unsettled Port Merveille -- sounding very much like a former French colony in Africa -- and, as it turns out, he's not the only one.
       Pierre-Luc's head is turned -- away from Simone for one, and his academic job, for another -- by another newcomer, mysterious femme Célestine, who shows up at a local club having replaced the lead singer of the group Poupée Sincère -- soon making them quite a success. But there's more to Célestine, as well -- as from the first she's yet another character who is not quite what she seems.
       The 'Supreme Orchestra' of the (English) title is a very fat diamond ("148 carats (and change)"), and apparently a variety of people want to get their hands on it; Fabrice Mansaré's mission -- and the complications he finds himself in -- also involve it. By the end of the story, the diamond and a surprisingly large number of the characters from Bruant find themselves in post-coup Port Merveille, in rather changed personal and professional circumstances.
       The path there leads through a variety of smaller adventures and episodes in snowy Bruant, a criss-crossing of fates and ambitions that, among other things, finds Fabrice-Mansaré-as-Charles-Rose becoming Simone's fourth husband and one of Simone's local friends become a tatoo-artist to a whole new class of customers. As one of his contacts explains to Fabrice Mansaré regarding their unfolding plot: "we have no more powerful weapon in our arsenal than confusion", and much the same would seem to go for the novel-plot itself -- but Turgeon's playful presentation makes for an enjoyable progression, even as some of the shifts and leaps have to be accepted on faith (rather than all too logically progressing); the myriad connections and overlaps, existing (though often long-hidden), developing, and re-aligning, do help repeatedly tie things somewhat back together. It's a lively sort of chess game, too, the characters and their oddities allowed to go their often unusual ways, alignments repeatedly shifting: Turgeon's characters aren't particularly stable, in their situations or identities -- which works for the story while admittedly also making it more difficult to fully engage with it.
       The Supreme Orchestra is very much about style -- not least of the telling. Presented in a knowing voice, The Supreme Orchestra captures, in its glimpses, the art and music worlds, institutional academia (when Pierre-Luc leaves his job), the rarefied world of international intrigue (at least as one imagines it in fiction ...), and even politics in the impoverished post-colonial world very nicely: it all sounds very good, and, episode by episode, is certainly good fun. The stylized voice goes just far enough -- too far, one might fear from the opening sentence ("The morning was blizzarding"), but fortunately then not -- and with an incidental player occasionally taking on the narration, shifting to a more in-the-fray first person voice, The Supreme Orchestra sounds confidently knowing throughout (which carries it a long way).
       Relying so heavily on plot -- the diamond, the coup, the intrigues, the relationships -- The Supreme Orchestra can't quite deliver enough it its always elegantly presented (if not necessarily elegant or complete) resolutions, and ultimately feels a bit flat as any kind of 'spy novel' -- but then most of its pleasure is meant to be in the text, and Turgeon's writing (and Pablo Strauss' creative translation), along with the characters and twists, do make for an enjoyable ride pretyy much all along the way

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 October 2018

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The Supreme Orchestra: Reviews: David Turgeon: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Canadian author David Turgeon was born in 1975.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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