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the Complete Review
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A Splendid Conspiracy

Albert Cossery

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To purchase A Splendid Conspiracy

Title: A Splendid Conspiracy
Author: Albert Cossery
Genre: Novel
Written: 1975 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 213 pages
Original in: French
Availability: A Splendid Conspiracy - US
A Splendid Conspiracy - UK
A Splendid Conspiracy - Canada
Un complot de saltimbanques - Canada
A Splendid Conspiracy - India
Un complot de saltimbanques - France
Complotto di saltimbanchi - Italia
  • French title: Un complot de saltimbanques
  • Translated by Alyson Waters

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Our Assessment:

B+ : an agreeable little entertainment, of flâneurs in provincial Egypt

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Al-Ahram Weekly . 1/2/2006 David Tresilian
Harper's . 2/2011 Robyn Creswell
The LA Times A 15/8/2010 David L. Ulin
The Nation . 11/6/2012 Mark Polizzotti
Publishers Weekly . 8/3/2010 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Though it might be felt that Cossery rather shows his hand in this novel, it underlines the way in which, best shown in Mendiants et orgueilleux, the adoption of a particular attitude to the world can at the same time be seen as a "gentle deliverance" from it." - David Tresilian, Al-Ahram Weekly

  • "The fable-like atmospheres of his work are due in part to the distance they take from history. His slackers and saltimbanques float with a kind of contemptuous serenity above the forces and events that have disfigured so much of modern Egyptian life." - Robyn Creswell, Harper's

  • "Here, as in The Jokers, Cossery moves between engagement and disconnection, between dissidence and a willful ennui. Unlike that earlier work, however, he turns everything upside down in the last few pages, building to an end that is so unexpected, yet so inevitable, that it changes our whole reading of the book. I don't want to give too much away, but Cossery achieves a magnificent amorality, devastating and subversive at a level that few works of literature (or any art) ever achieve." - David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Even when the conspiracies are real, and not just the paranoid fantasy of a bored policeman, the tiny bombs these characters lob at clownish authority tend to be packed with mirth rather than dynamite." - Mark Polizzotti, The Nation

  • "Fluidly translated, this novel reads much like a horny old goat's fantasy, and its appeal will likely be limited to the Henry Miller set." - 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:

       A Splendid Conspiracy begins with idler Teymour experiencing a profound culture shock as he returns home after several years abroad. He was meant to be studying while abroad -- chemical engineering, no less -- but quickly discovered that the dissolute life was much more to his liking; now back in this Egyptian backwater town, he sees only that the wonderful lifestyle he's been leading has been irretrievably lost. His rich and generally indulgent father has arranged a position for him at the local sugar refinery -- "the city's sole industry" -- but Teymour is practically paralyzed by the thought of the tedious life that now awaits him.
       Fortunately for him things aren't quite that bad. As one of his old friends, Medhat, -- who never traveled abroad -- recognizes:

Beneath its deceptive and admittedly depressing appearance were concealed great gifts of madness and murderous rage capable of competing with any world capital.
       Medhat and another friend, Imtaz, -- a star-actor whose severe myopia had caused a disastrous misstep on stage in the capital, leading him to return to this provincial nest -- show Teymour that it is, indeed, possible to live the life of a flâneur here, and have quite a good time. (The fact that Teymour's dad doesn't mind that his son refuses to take up the position at the sugar refinery makes matters easier too -- though Teymour would have been ill-equipped for it anyway: while he did return with a degree in chemical engineering, it was one he bought, not earned, as he never bothered attending any classes.)
       Spicing things up a bit is the fact that recently locals have been disappearing:
In the last few months, four people, most of them prominent citizens, have vanished from one day to the next without a trace.
       And the police are, of course, suspicious of idlers and intellectuals such as Medhat and Teymour and their circle. And they, of course, don't mind teasing the police a bit, toying with the police informer set on them and not minding having a bit of suspicion fall on them.
       The police chief explains why he is concerned about these educated idlers:
They cannot remain idle without finding out that this world is abject and revolting.
       But, in fact, Teymour and his cohorts find it's only through and in idleness that the world is livable.
       One thing that makes life livable is the attraction of the opposite sex, and so there's also a lot of ogling and foreplay here, most of it involving rather young girls. It begins with a parade of the newest hire at the local bordello, and continues with the schoolgirls that want a taste of the more risqué life. Teymour, too, finds himself quite taken by a young saltimbanque performing on her bicycle -- who turns out to be the sister of the police informant. But, beyond some lap-sitting and belly-dancing there's not too much that's truly shocking: the novel remains suggestive rather than explicit.
       A Splendid Conspiracy is remarkably good-natured. Yes, there's murder afoot somewhere out there, and rather many instances of women (and girls) who are and were taken advantage (plus a few men who suffer for it, in a variety of ways), and the licentiousness is a bit shocking, but the story itself, and Cossery's commanding, charming tone, make for a very agreeable entertainment. (The case of the disappearing prominent people is, eventually, satisfyingly solved, but A Splendid Conspiracy is only rather incidentally a murder-mystery.)
       The French title of the novel is: Un complot de saltimbanques, and as Alyson Waters notes in a Note, it is:
a lovely word, and Cossery, who carefully chose all his words, used it in this book in a variety of ways. The literal translation would be something along the lines of "street artist" or "street entertainer"
       Felfel, the bicycling saltimbanque, is a significant secondary figure, but the whole novel is saltimbanquesque, and the way Cossery plays with his characters and the language he uses that makes for a performance as entrancing (if very different) as that of the nubile little street-artist.
       A Splendid Conspiracy is a fairly light and frothy entertainment, but it's very well done and a pleasure to read -- quite delightful.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 May 2010

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A Splendid Conspiracy: Reviews: Albert Cossery: Other books by Albert Cossery under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature
  • See Index of books from and about Africa

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About the Author:

       French-Egyptian writer Albert Cossery lived 1913 to 2008.

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