Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



In association with Amazon.it - Italia

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Conductor

Jean Ferry

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

To purchase The Conductor

Title: The Conductor
Author: Jean Ferry
Genre: Stories
Written: 1950 (rev. 2011), (Eng. 2013)
Length: 163 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Conductor - US
The Conductor - UK
The Conductor - Canada
Le mécanicien et autres contes - Canada
The Conductor - India
Le mécanicien et autres contes - France
  • and Other Tales
  • French title: Le mécanicien et autres contes
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Edward Gauvin
  • With an Introduction by Raphaël Sorin
  • With collages by Claude Ballaré

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : wonderful oddities

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Washington Post . 15/1/2014 Michael Dirda

  From the Reviews:
  • "I opened The Conductor and Other Tales, by Jean Ferry, and found myself, to use one of those no-no words among serious reviewers, enchanted. In tone and subject matter, these two dozen very short stories may remind you of Italo Calvino or Steven Millhauser at their most beguiling. (...) The Wakefield Press specializes, as its Web site says, in "overlooked gems and literary oddities." The Conductor and Other Tales fits both categories." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       The Conductor and Other Tales is Jean Ferry's only published work of fiction. It first appeared in 1950; this edition is a translation of the one published in 2011, which also includes four previously unpublished pieces. Authorship, in the tangible form of books emblazoned with his name, does not appear to have been important to Ferry; a screenwriter (or, apparently more often, script doctor), he apparently was fine with sharing credit, or with it not being acknowledged in bright lights -- and perhaps the most charming piece in this collection is the opening one, 'Notice', in which he imagines the fate of this manuscript, beginning:

     Quite possibly, this book will be printed and read some day. Just as likely it will remain a manuscript, quietly sleeping the long years away in a drawer.
       He goes on to imagine the eventual fate and path of the manuscript-pages -- leading finally to the person he writes for (who is no longer even a reader, at that point). It's a beautifully executed little piece, and sets the tone for Ferry's odd literary excursions that follow.
       These pieces -- stories, of sorts, but not quite -- are very short, some only a page long. There's some overlap and continuity among some of them, but most stand simply, wonderfully strangely on their own.
       There's an ineffable quality to these pieces. Ferry makes unexpected claims or observations -- and yet spins them out convincingly:
     Man is a sunflower. This obvious truth has gone unnoticed. Once stated, everything else follows.
       Several of the best pieces touch upon writing itself, the far-from-prolific Ferry distilling a life's worth of ambition in the most succinct form -- most perfectly in 'Failure of a Fine Career in Letters', where he admits:
I would like to write thirty-odd novels, with the very precise goal of inserting, in some logical place, a few sentences I am especially fond of.
       Of course, he doesn't get around to it -- and so, after explaining himself, simply offers here: "a few of the lines with which I'd like to have adorned a novel", in a reductio near absurdum.
       Perhaps best summing up his attitude towards actually getting on paper entireties -- of bothering to write whole novels and the like -- is the haunting image of:
the intellectual who died of exhaustion at a young age for, on top of a draining, harassing, and poorly paid day job, he put his every spare moment toward preparing a monumental and definitive critical edition of Lafargue's The Right to be Lazy.
       A leading authority on Raymond Roussel (for more on Roussel see, for example, Mark Ford's Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams), Ferry also offers a beautiful homage, 'Raymond Roussel in Heaven':
Here was repose, with the restored glory he had spent his life pursuing in vain through a series of pathetic expedients.
       (Ferry also closes off the piece amusingly:
     Later, Roussel really hit it off with God, whom he did a very good impression of for his closest friends, which won him even greater acclaim with the angels.
       In a lovely pocket-sized (hurrah !) edition from Wakefield Press, this is a wonderful volume to dip back into even if one first reads it through in one go; the pieces are well worth revisiting. The collages by Claude Ballaré also strike the proper note.
       Note also that this volume comes with a fairly detailed Introduction by Edward Gauvin, who has admirably and actively been doing his best to spread the Ferry-word. Given Ferry's relative obscurity there's certainly a case to be made for such an introduction and overview of the man and his place in French letters (and cinema), but I have to say I found it a distraction. The paragraphs of jacket-flap and back-cover copy provide more than enough information about the man and the book, and the more academic Introduction-proper is rather a drag on such an otherwise light (yet never shallow) book.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 December 2013

- Return to top of the page -


The Conductor: Reviews: Jean Ferry: Other books of interest under review:
  • Andrew Hugill's 'Pataphysics: A Useless Guide
  • See Index of French literature at the complete review

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       French screenwirter and author Jean Ferry lived 1906 to 1974.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2013-2014 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links