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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Bad Eminence

by
James Greer


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Bad Eminence



Title: Bad Eminence
Author: James Greer
Genre: Novel
Written: 2022
Length: 287 pages
Availability: Bad Eminence - US
Bad Eminence - UK
Bad Eminence - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: And Other Stories

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Our Assessment:

B+ : very stylish and enjoyable wild ride

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Spectator . 2/7/2022 Lee Langley


  From the Reviews:
  • "Gleefully masquerading as an action thriller, it's a wild trip through language, literature and translation, which may sound a bit niche, but Greer is out to persuade you that reading is the most fun you can have with your clothes on. (...) Bad Eminence is definitely a novel with a beginning, a middle and an end, though not necessarily in that order. (...) Borges would have approved the impish circularity. Bad Eminence is not for all; some might reject its self-referential brilliance. I'll be rereading, for the fun of it. And the margin notes." - Lee Langley, The Spectator

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:

       Bad Eminence is a book of doublings, beginning with narrator Vanessa Salomon, who presents herself as a twin, with an identical sister, Alexandra, who is two minutes older. Born in a trilingual household -- "French, English and money" -- Vanessa is a literary translator -- though fortunately so comfortably well-off that she's not dependent on this work for the income. (As she notes: "There's no money in it, so it's good I don't need money".)
       Her sister, under the name Angelique de Saxe, is the far more famous of the two, an international movie star -- a career and success Vanessa feels she deserved, and which she maintains her sister stole from her.
       Vanessa also has a pet notion that she hasn't been able to put in practice yet, the amusing idea that: "a book should be translated before it's been written". The story then is basically set in motion when she is contacted by the: "American editor of a French writer who is absolutely Not Michel Houellebecq", who wants to meet her. She meets this man who is absolutely Not Michel Houellebecq -- calling him H -- and then H2, as this incredibly successful writer also leads a doubled life, the one a front-man, to do the readings and other public duties that the *real* writer would rather not be bothered with.
       H2 has a proposition for Vanessa: that she translate his next book before he has written it. And, of course that book turns out to be this one, with H2 observing, when Vanessa asks why he thinks she would undertake this project for him, that: "You're already doing it", as the novel loops on itself, telling the story, in real time, of its creation. Keeping up the doubling-theme, the novel is also presented as its own re-telling, as Vanessa invites neighbor Juno Temple to her apartment early on and reads the novel to her, to get her reaction and input .....
       Early on, Vanessa already warned (Juno and the reader): "I hope you're not expecting a story in the trad sense", but even as the novel circles in on itself (in its beginning is its end, etc.) it does begin reasonably straightforwardly. It seems simply to be the story of a translator being commissioned to write this work -- and, for a while, Vanessa more or less goes along with it, even if the conditions imposed on her can be rather strict. But even before the story gets truly outlandish, it already loops and strays about in smaller ways.
       There's the (re-)translation (another doubling ...) of Alain Robbe-Grillet's Souvenirs du triangle d'or she's doing on spec. -- and which the new novel H claims to be writing sounds identical to. Echoes of the Robbe-Grillet novel can be found in Bad Eminence, from the way they handle the literary representation of reality to the very present role of the narrator. But Bad Eminence goes far beyond this one work in leaning on literary reference -- from its title (taken from Paradise Lost) to the mention of: "Fiat Lux, whose notebooks were published in 2006 under the title Artificial Light" (so the title of author Greer's 2006 novel).
       Then there's also Vanessa's former boyfriend, Thomas Early, whose suicide Vanessa continues to feel guilty about; extracts from his notebooks are also featured here. (Thomas committed suicide by jumping off of Vanessa's building, and, in keeping with the doubled-motif, there is a second suicide associated with the place.)
       The novel also includes numerous photographs, as well as recipes for various cocktails Vanessa enjoys -- presented as 'sponsored content' (and indeed one hopes Greer and the publisher are being well-remunerated for these), and each featuring Singani 63.
       Finally, there is also a 'Help Desk' appendix, to which readers are referred to already at the opening of the book: "Should you have any difficulty in untangling any of the following, the management recommends you check in with the Help Desk". Here Greer offers answers to some of the questions readers may have about things and people mentioned in the novel -- 'What is the nouveau roman ?' 'Who is Eve Babitz ?' 'What is the point of Los Angeles ?' -- though they are clarifying to very different extents (in some cases, not at all). As suggested in one of the responses: "What you do with these answers is your own business".
       It all makes for a very heady mix, spinning entertainingly if ultimately perhaps too far. What easily sustains the novel, however, is the sharp, sprightly narrative, and especially that voice.
       As Vanessa points out:

Look, I do love words, that should be obvious by now, but what I love even better is showing off, which is why I will always pick the obscure or antiquated or even just flat out wrong word whenever possible if I think there's a shot it'll make me sound smarter than I am.
       Vanessa is sure (and fairly full) of her self, and that confident ease extends to her use of words. There's a playfulness to all of this, but Greer is careful not to let her go overboard with it; her speech remains direct and clearly to the point throughout; if anything, Vanessa at times strains a bit too much to come across as down-to-earth. Overall, however, the writing is quite splendid, just a pleasure to read.
       Bad Eminence is all quick flourish, zipping around in its dizzying story. Vanessa's wealth allows for the sense of easy comfort that goes with being able to have most any physical comfort one wants, and the restlessness of her actions and thoughts is neatly balanced with an indulgent luxuriating in the better things in life: she may claim not to care that much for most of the fine food she is served, but she does eat (and drink) very well; when she flies, it is first class. The fact that she does not have to worry about money leaves her free to indulge in bigger (and pettier, as in the case of her jealousy towards her sister) things -- and Greer takes full advantage, as he, through the character, covers a tremendous amount of ground.
       Unsurprisingly, quite a few things in Bad Eminence turn out not as or what they originally seem. It's a wild ride, but much of it is neatly controlled -- narrator Vanessa long seems to have things firmly in hand, and it's then just as fun when she struggles more to keep a grip -- and Vanessa's cocky patter is very entertaining. In its final spirals -- and, yes, there is an actual spiral, too -- Greer arguably ultimately overextends himself (and Vanessa), but this is still a whole lot of good fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 June 2022

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Links:

Bad Eminence: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction

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About the Author:

       James Greer is an American writer and musician.

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© 2022 the complete review

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