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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



René Belletto

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To purchase Dying

Title: Dying
Author: René Belletto
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 168 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Dying - US
Dying - UK
Dying - Canada
Mourir - Canada
Dying - India
Mourir - France
Morire - Italia
  • French title: Mourir
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Alexander Hertich

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Our Assessment:

B : unconventional yet almost surprisingly (ultimately) coherent

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 7/2/2002 Martine de Rabaudy
TLS . 10/12/2010 Adam Lively
World Lit. Today . Spring/2002 Warren Motte

  From the Reviews:
  • "Par là, René Belletto reste fidèle au double «je» de son double jeu. Encore gagné !" - Martine de Rabaudy, L'Express

  • "Dying is a novel in which it is very clearly impossible to tell what is going on. (...) Dying is a book that really does deserve the loose label "postmodernist". (...) Dying itself represents a celebration of indeterminacy, a rebellion against meaning. (...) The novel may well come to be hailed as a classic by aficionados of the postmodern. Readers accustomed to the meat-and-potatoes of Anglo-Saxon realism will find it a challenge." - Adam Lively, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Mourir seems to come fresh from the laboratory. (...) Both tales are pleasingly told, as Belleto wallows luxuriously in fiction for its own sake, inviting us to do the same. (...) We wander through the novel much like Belletto's characters, with no roadmaps and precious little control over events, willingly benighted and gleefully bedazzled." - 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:

       Translator Alexander Hertich's Introduction to Dying gives some idea/warning of what is to come, as he mentions that, for example, not only does Belletto use repetition for effect in the novel but he actually also copies texts here, as parts of the book are made up of (unattributed) quotations from Renaissance composer Clément Janequin and Rabelais, as well as "page-long excerpts taken directly from Belletto's earlier works". Divided into two parts titled 'An Old Testament' and 'Dying (A New Testament)' -- telling entirely different stories -- , and with claims such as, at one point, that: "what you are reading is a word-for-word reproduction of a manuscript that I discovered and concealed in a chest of drawers", Dying is no straightforward narrative. Its chapters further divided into short sub-chapters, each with its own title and many presenting discrete episodes, the narratives frequently veer off tangentially -- but always return to the strong 'main' storylines.
       Incidentally death-filled, with the deaths both real and faked, Dying is a different sort of take on mortality. 'An Old Testament' begins with an impoverished narrator, Sixtus, holed up in a ghostly, ghastly hotel -- a Kafkaesque sort of place --, the only other person there its owner, Leo, whose outlandish claims Sixtus doesn't know how to react to. Eventually Sixtus makes good his escape, making his way to another building. Among the things he finds there are two dead men who'd apparently killed each other in a shootout, as well as a whole lot of cash, and two envelopes -- one of which is a ransom demand for one of the dead men's kidnapped wife.
       In the second section of the novel -- another first person account (by the same man who copied the manuscript that was Sixtus' account ?) -- the narrator describes faking his own death in order to split up with his girlfriend, Anita:

     Why such an undertaking, so extraordinary, so seemingly cruel ? Because there was no other way out if I wanted our love to endure, by any means necessary.
       Indeed, he claims: "If my real death had been a better solution, I wouldn't have hesitated". Helped in his undertaking by his friend Yves, it is Yves that turns to the more radical and permanent way out, as several actual corpses also litter this part of the book.
       Dying does have clearly delineated plots, and part of its success is that these remain firmly in place throughout, like train tracks, even as the narratives seem to shoot off in all different directions (and include such feints as the copied passages, suggestions of stories-within-stories (all the more misleading since they, too, are purportedly word-for-word reproductions), previews of the future (and completely forgotten pasts), and uncertainty as to identity). Plot is not central for Belletto, and even where seemingly conventional -- a kidnapping ! paying ransom ! -- the stories don't follow the expected arcs, but he effectively uses plot to anchor his work. The short chapters also aren't mere digressive excursions or arbitrary stories, but Belletto's construct is also distinctive and unusual: there's method here, but unlike that found most anywhere else.
       Belletto manages to repeatedly pleasantly surprise -- not so much in his plots, where it's always easy to make the next twist unexpected or toss in another corpse, but in the variety of his presentation and prose. With chapters as short as a single sentence ("Thus the year drew to a close"), the stories both circle around themselves and advance in unexpected ways -- there's certainly little one can see coming -- and offer smaller pleasures in their bits and pieces. This is also a text which isn't so much a puzzle whose whole finally becomes apparent as the last piece is put in place -- it remains puzzling, its meaning(s) and ambition(s) still shifting depending on how one looks at it -- yet in which the whole (opaque as it may still seem) is satisfyingly greater than the parts, even as these also impress by themselves. Nevertheless, it's a decidedly odd text that does require a willingness on the part of the reader to engage with it on its own strange terms.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 November 2010

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Dying: Reviews: Other books by René Belletto under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author René Belletto was born in 1945.

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© 2010-2011 the complete review

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