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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Truth about Marie

by
Jean-Philippe Toussaint


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

To purchase The Truth about Marie



Title: The Truth about Marie
Author: Jean-Philippe Toussaint
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 160 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Truth about Marie - US
The Truth about Marie - UK
The Truth about Marie - Canada
La vérité sur Marie - Canada
The Truth about Marie - India
La vérité sur Marie - France
Die Wahrheit über Marie - Deutschland
  • French title: La vérité sur Marie
  • Translated by Matthew B. Smith

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Our Assessment:

B+ : further variations in the relationship-saga, with some great scenes

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 6/9/2011 Nicholas Lezard
The Independent . 22/11/2011 Jonathan Gibbs
Libération . 17/9/2009 Eric Loret
London Rev. of Books . 11/2/2010 Tom McCarthy
NZZ . 21/10/2010 Georg Renöckl


  From the Reviews:
  • "It has an absolutely staggering set-piece involving a racehorse bolting as it's being taken through customs, and a brush fire on Elba (also involving harm to horses); behind the cleverness, there is huge authorial sympathy, and I think Toussaint is carving out one of the most fascinating literary oeuvres of our times." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "His strange, spare novels are Gallic through and through, teasing in their philosophical play, and pointedly cavalier with regards to such solid Anglo-Saxon notions as plot and narrative point of view. (...) That there is nothing like this being written in English at the moment should be recommendation enough to the curious reader." - Jonathan Gibbs, The Independent

  • "Toussaint a souvent dit son désir de purifier l’énergie romanesque «indépendamment de l’anecdote ou de l’intrigue». Encore un pas et c’est la fission nucléaire." - Eric Loret, Libération

  • "It reprises plenty more (.....) And, like a perpetual thunderstorm, the battle between sentimentalism and deconstruction rages unresolved. The novel’s end (...) struck me initially as worn -- trite, even, tasting more of syrup than of soot. But this feeling is blown away by a stunning Faulknerian sequence describing the fraught transportation of a racehorse through Narita airport." - Tom McCarthy, London Review of Books

  • "Macht der Leser mit, so funktioniert Toussaints genau durchdachtes Spiel auch dann, wenn man keine Lust auf angestrengtes Suchen nach eventuellen Parallelen, Verweisen und sonstigen strukturalistischen Mätzchen hat. Der Autor versteht es, mit langen, kunstvoll gedrechselten Sätzen Szenen von eindrücklicher Schönheit entstehen zu lassen." - Georg Renöckl, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

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:

       Toussaint again dips into the well: Marie is back -- yes, the same Marie from Making Love and Running Away.
       The narrator and Marie are not together when this installment of their saga begins, yet remain connected, with the narrator beginning his tale by noting that when the action started that fateful night:

we had made love at the same time that night, Marie and I, but not with each other.
       It's a nice idea, and perfectly captures both their separation (only half a mile apart, so not even that all that far physically ...) as well as how they continue to live on almost parallel paths, their desires and lives still intimately in tune, (though the fact that the women he was with was also named Marie is perhaps ... a bit much).
       Marie's love-making does not go well: the guy she's with goes into cardiac arrest and is taken to hospital by emergency services; Marie doesn't go along out of consideration for the guy's wife, who presumably wouldn't need the double shock of finding both a gravely ill husband and then how he had wound up in this state. Marie calls the narrator, and he of course immediately rushes over; they may be leading separate lives, but:
we understood each other, we'd always understood each other, I loved her, yes. It may be very imprecise to say I loved her, but nothing could be more precise.
       Late in his account, the narrator admits to his "imperfect knowledge of what happened" that night, and:
the many murky areas surrounding that evening, were hardly a handicap for me. On the contrary, this forced me to employ my imagination to a much greater degree, pressed me to provide all the details in my mind, whereas had I really been there I'd simply have remembered everything.
       The Truth about Marie is a book built on such 'imperfect knowledge', relating not only what happened with Marie and her lover on that night, but also offering a long section of their being together in Tokyo. The narrator notes -- well into his account -- that Marie's lover's name was actually Jean-Baptiste de Ganay, but he nevertheless continues to refer to him as he had from the beginning, as Jean-Christophe de G. Imagination, and whatever spin his mind puts on facts, trumps reality.
       Much of the novel is, in fact, a flight of fantasy, of what the narrator imagines Marie experienced. Both Jean-Christophe de G.'s heart attack and the scenes with them in Japan, which involve a race horse and then its transport by plane, are stunning pieces of writing: detailed, vibrant, arresting. Yet, as the narrator reminds us, they are embellishments -- grounded in fact, but then entirely (re-)imagined by him who was present at best briefly and peripherally (and certainly not for most of the action).
       It is his certainty about knowing Marie -- and knowing the truth about Marie -- that allows him to take this imaginative leap. He insists:
I may have been mistaken in many of my assumptions about Jean-Cristophe de G., but never in those about Marie, I knew Marie's every move, I knew how she would have reacted in every circumstance, I knew her instinctively, my knowledge of her was innate, natural, I possessed absolute intelligence regarding the details of her life: I knew the truth about Marie.
       So, despite physical separation, there's still quite a bond here; no wonder that they can't quite seem to let go of one another. Yet it also raises the question: how much of this love is entirely in the narrator's mind ? After all, if he knows 'the truth about Marie' -- and can fill in any blanks in her life, as he does in the episodes her relates here -- isn't the (physical) Marie superfluous ? Well, apparently not entirely.
       The Truth about Marie is another variation on this odd relationship-game Toussaint has been playing across several books now -- an elaborate will they/won't they or can they/can't they. Much of it is very impressive -- especially those scenes the narrator doesn't have first-hand experience of, which could stand on their own as first-rate, superbly written stories -- but the relationship aspect isn't entirely satisfying, especially in conjunction with the previous novels in the Marie-saga. With clouds (and flames) of doom hanging over so much here -- even when characters find each other (or have sex), the big picture is rarely a pretty (and often an ominous) one, from Jean-Cristophe de G. keeling over to the striking closing image of the book -- Toussaint does the whole 'impossibility of love'-idea well, but also lays it on pretty thick. After a while (and three books) that can get very wearing. (The fact that for all his intimate knowledge Marie remains somewhat enigmatic -- and that it can be tough to see what he sees in her -- doesn't help.)
       The writing is very impressive, but as a whole The Truth about Marie doesn't quite convince; maybe Toussaint has held on to Marie for too long and he should have just let his narrator leave the phone ringing when she called .....

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 August 2011

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Links:

The Truth about Marie: Reviews: Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Other books by Jean-Philippe Toussaint under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Jean-Philippe Toussaint was born in Brussels in 1957.

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© 2011-2012 the complete review

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