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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Woman in the Row Behind

Françoise Dorner

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To purchase The Woman in the Row Behind

Title: The Woman in the Row Behind
Author: Françoise Dorner
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 122 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Woman in the Row Behind - US
The Woman in the Row Behind - UK
The Woman in the Row Behind - Canada
La fille du rang derrière - Canada
La fille du rang derrière - France
  • French title: La fille du rang derrière
  • Translated by Adriana Hunter
  • Awarded the Prix Goncourt du premier roman, 2004

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Our Assessment:

B : decent but glum

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 3/9/2006 Kai Maristed
The NY Times Book Rev. . 24/9/2006 Andrew Ervin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Told in a deadpan voice ably rendered by veteran translator Adriana Hunter, Dorner's tale abounds with snappy visuals and dark situation comedy. (...) But The Woman in the Row Behind hardly bothers with what novels (as compared to plays) generally do best: i.e., unfold subtlety in character, deepen story with subplot. In short, while one might doubt whether The Woman in the Row Behind stands up fully as a novel, it succeeds beautifully as tragic farce." - Kai Maristed, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(A) precise and thought-provoking novel of ideas wrapped in the garrish trappings of chick-lit. (...) (A) small and sophisticated novel of big ideas, many of them extremely naughty." - Andrew Ervin, The New York Times Book Review

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:

       The Woman in the Row Behind is narrated by Nina. She begins her story in the present, and so readers learn that her husband is now off in China, following his dream. Most of the book is devoted to the past, however, -- as she recounts how it came to that.
       Nina isn't very much of a woman -- certainly not a very self-confident one:

     I was never there when it mattered. or perhaps sometimes, but no one ever noticed. Transparent, an invisible little woman -- but there is an upside to that: you can watch and listen, keep it all to yourself, and gradually you forget the sound of your own voice.
       She and her husband, Roger, run a newspaper kiosk. Their marriage is very bland, dominated by work and with lunch with the relatives at a different one of their houses each Sunday of the month. Nina has never met her father, and her mother is unhelpfully critical.
       Nina tries to spice things up in her marriage, including by plucking her pubic hair into a heart shape; her husband, of course, doesn't even notice:
I just felt stupid then, with my heart between my thighs.
       But she goes considerably further -- as chance and whim allow -- and she does get carried away:
I started my underground life and it gradually took over.
       In her effort to reach her husband she is too successful: she disguises herself and puts on a Chinese accent and seduces him at the movies. Unfortunately, he really falls for the fantasy she provides -- and refuses to see the truth.
       Family tensions add to the mix, and the fact that her best friend broke up with Robert's brother doesn't help matters. Robert is also so blind that the only thing he does think to accuse Nina of -- having an affair with his brother -- is the one thing she isn't guilty of.
       The Woman in the Row Behind is an odd little novel of a rather peculiar and vulnerable lost soul. She's enterprising -- when she thinks the solution is for her and her husband to get away for a week's vacation she takes the easiest but most radical step to get away from the kiosk -- but things never entirely work out -- except when she indulges in what amounts to fantasy. The people around her are equally lost causes, and while there's quite a bit of comic relief and a few good lines, it's still a fairly glum work.

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The Woman in the Row Behind: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Françoise Dorner has written plays, screenplays, and this novel.

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© 2006-2008 the complete review

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