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the Complete Review
the complete review - literary criticism



Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong

by
Pierre Bayard


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

To purchase Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong



Title: Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong
Author: Pierre Bayard
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 188 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong - US
Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong - UK
Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong - Canada
L'Affaire du chien des Baskerville - Canada
L'Affaire du chien des Baskerville - France
Freispruch für den Hund der Baskervilles - Deutschland
  • Reopening the Case of The Hound of the Baskervilles
  • French title: L'Affaire du chien des Baskerville
  • Translated by Charlotte Mandell

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Our Assessment:

B : fun idea, fairly well done

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 14/10/2008 Elmar Schenkel
L'Humanité . 17/1/2008 Christine Montalbetti
The LA Times . 30/11/2008 Paula L. Woods
World Lit. Today . 5-6/2008 Warren Motte


  From the Reviews:
  • "Dieser Hass des Autors auf sein Geschöpf ist auch Ausgangspunkt für die überlegungen des französischen Literaturprofessors und Psychoanalytikers Pierre Bayard. Grundlegend ist dabei die Vorstellung, dass sich erfundene Figuren verselbständigen können und sich gegebenenfalls an ihrem Schöpfer rächen können. " - Elmar Schenkel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Car notre critique redresseur de torts est en vérité un théoricien qui mêle chaque fois les questions de la théorie littéraire et les outils de la psychanalyse pour éclairer la complexité de notre rapport aux livres." - Christine Montalbetti, L'Humanité

  • "With wit and careful analysis, Bayard makes a convincing case for not only Dr. Watson's unreliability as narrator and eyewitness to the events in the novel but also the trickier assertion that Conan Doyle, who had actually killed off Holmes in an earlier story and was forced by popular demand to bring him back, became distracted by the fantastical setting and dog he had created and ignored the real killer operating in the margins." - Paula L. Woods, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Bayard argues his brief with admirable elegance, resource, and wit. This is a book of fun and fireworks; yet its principal interest resides, I think, in the vision of the mutual permeability of real and fictional worlds. Bayard contends that those worlds necessarily communicate with each other in largely unfettered conversation, and that such a conversation has consequences in both worlds." - Warren Motte, World Literature Today

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:

       Pierre Bayard has played this game before, in Who Killed Roger Ackroyd ? and the untranslated Enquête sur Hamlet (both of which he also summarises here), and in Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong (as the rather too-blunt English title has it) he takes on Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, suggesting the conventional wisdom (and readings) are all wrong.
       Bayard practises 'detective criticism', arguing that:

In literature as in life, the true criminals often elude the investigators and allow secondary characters to be accused and condemned. In its passion for justice, detective criticism commits itself to rediscovering the truth. If it is unable to arrest the guilty parties, it can at least clear the names of the innocent.
       Bayard argues that Sherlock Holmes got it all wrong -- and makes an interesting case. Among other things, he notes that Holmes actually frequently gets things wrong:
And if the person who is supposed to determine the truth can be mistaken in his first conclusion, he may just as easily, when he thinks he has corrected his mistake, simply have fallen into another one in his second conclusion. Thus all the solutions to Holmes's cases are open to suspicion.
       He also has good fun with Conan Doyle's strained relationship with his character: after all, the author had killed Holmes off, and The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first of the Holmes-stories written after he finally gave in and brought him back to life (yes, The Hound of the Baskervilles is a story from earlier in Holmes' career, but still ...). He goes so far as to suggest:
     In order to grasp what is at play deep down in this book, that which as escaped the all-too-rational critics, we must try to understand the tormented relationships Conan Doyle shared with his characters -- especially his greatest character, Sherlock Holmes. These relationships were tinged with madness, and, in the case of this novel, ended up influencing the plot to the point of making it indecipherable to the writer himself. Conan Doyle hid his own confusion behind that of his characters.
       The most appealing notion Bayard offers is that of the independence of literary characters and creations, as he argues that:
     The notion that literary characters are confined inside the books they inhabit is a dangerous illusion. Holmes's persecution of his own creator demonstrates that their autonomy allows them at certain times to pass into our world, free to remain harmoniously in our company or to profoundly disturb our existence.
       And so:
Failing to grasp his characters' independence, Conan Doyle did not realize that one of them had entirely escaped his control and was amusing himself by misleading his detective.
       This idea of character-autonomy is a wonderful one, though in fact the The Hound of the Baskervilles-example is perhaps not the ideal one to use in presenting it. Sherlock Holmes is one of those literary characters who has very obviously taken on a sort of public 'life of his own', with people treating him as very 'real'; what Bayard proposes is a much richer world of characters escaping their creators, these figures:
not, as we too often believe, creatures who exist only on paper, but living beings who lead an autonomous existence -- sometimes going so far as to commit murders unbeknownst to the author.
       The epigraph to Bayard's books is from Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair, and Fforde's marvellous Thursday Next-books convey this idea of character-autonomy particularly well; Bayard does a nice job playing with the idea here too -- and obviously he'll be able to mine this for quite a few more books -- but it does come across as a bit forced. Still, it's very good fun.
       Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong is also welcome as a book that pushes for much more involvement on the reader's part, demonstrating that a willingness to engage with texts by also questioning them (and not just accepting everything at simple face value) can be rewarding. Even Holmes-purists will find his arguments at least intriguing, and with Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong -- just as with his brilliant How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read -- Bayard has written a book that can make us all better readers.

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Links:

Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong: Reviews: Other books by Pierre Bayard under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Pierre Bayard was born in 1954. He is a psychoanalyst and teaches literature at the University of Paris VIII, and he has written numerous book.

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© 2008-2009 the complete review

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