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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Passion of
Martin Fissel-Brandt

Christian Gailly

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Title: The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt
Author: Christian Gailly
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998 (Eng. 2002)
Length: 144 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt - US
The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt - UK
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La passion de Martin Fissel-Brandt - France
  • French title: La passion de Martin Fissel-Brandt
  • Translated by Melanie Kemp
  • With an Introduction by Brian Evenson

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting action-packed minimalist exercise

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Humanité A 9/10/1998 Jean-Claude Lebrun
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/2002 Joseph Dewey
World Lit. Today . Summer/1999 Brian Evenson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Comme si, chez Christian Gailly, la véritable réalité sonore se trouvait ailleurs: dans les mots, leurs ajustements, leurs reprises et les silences entre eux." - Jean-Claude Lebrun, L'Humanité

  • "What we are given is the intense scrutiny of the vehicle of language itself, a parsing of sentences to exploit the audacious presumption of design. Gailly creates a stunningly spare prose line, fragmentary sentences within brief chapters, a demanding line marvelously translated here to preserve its jazzy syncopations." - Joseph Dewey, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "Christian Gailly's ninth novel, La passion de Martin Fissel-Brandt, pursues the intricate dance of chance and human will that has become Gailly's staple as a novelist. (...) There is a certain urgency to the writing here, determined by Martin's own sense of urgency as he tries to construct his life over. Written in short, sharp chapters, in the third person, the novel develops rapidly." - Brian Evenson, 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:

       In his introduction to this novel, Brian Evenson goes on at some length about minimalism. Gailly's extreme minimalism is certainly the novel's most striking feature, at least initially, and English-speaking readers perhaps need to be forewarned and prepared for it.
       The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt is a short novel, with short chapters, and very short sentences. Other than some of the dialogue almost none of the sentences run on in the least. Descriptions -- of places and actions -- are almost invariably pared down to the simplest pieces, each facet presented individually rather than strung together. A game, for example, is described:

To move forward. At the toss of the dice. From one square to another. Some character. Of ivory. Or animal. Of ebony. Chipped. Beheaded. Or missing. Misplaced. Replaced by whatever. A cork. A button. Anything stable. Everyone knowing what it replaced.
       This narrative device can be very powerful, and Gailly occasionally uses it to good effect. It can, of course, also be terribly enervating -- and often, here, it is.
       (The rare instances when discrete actions are then lumped together in a sentence is all the more jarring: "He waved to her and drove off" sounds simply wrong when everywhere else two such separate actions are emphatically kept apart.)
       For all its minimalism, and despite its brevity, The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt is action-packed. A great deal happens.
       The story begins effectively, with a robin having flown into the room of a bungalow which Martin rented for a week-long getaway. The robin sets a whole series of events in motion, cleverly and carefully built up by Gailly. Martin discovers a letter, and the letter -- coincidentally ? -- leads him to his past and reawakens his passion.
       Martin's wife, Suzanne, is dead -- murdered by Martin, or so his cat believes. Another woman figures in his life too: Anna, now far away, leading a life apart from him.
       Martin gets himself transferred to Southeast Asia -- finding there considerable turmoil, political unrest, and violence. But he does, finally, also find what he is looking for.
       Gailly recounts a great deal in the novel. Encounters and conversations are generally quickly related, and still there is a depth to them. Anna's very different life also is prominently recounted, as the book moves to twin tracks of narrative that will, eventually, cross.
       A great deal happens in the novel, and a surprisingly large number of characters figure in it. It would appear to be a novel of sketches, but the focus is on action and information: what Gailly presents are the brief moments and exchanges that convey the most. Instead of the series of hurried sketches the book at first appears to be made of one finds that what Gailly presents are the outlines of a larger edifice, the reader filling in the vast empty spaces and making of it a fairly solid whole.
       The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt is an uneven read. The style can be grating, and is not always used to best effect; this may, in part (or even in whole) be due to the translation. The book is also dangerously close to being overpopulated. There are also flat out mistakes: the accusing cat is, like almost every anthropomorphic pet in fiction, ridiculous.
       The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt is a quick, often effective read, if not a complete success as Gailly winds up trying to do a bit too much. Nevertheless, it is an engaging read, with much of the fun coming from the unusual style -- and from seeing what Gailly can do with it.

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The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt: Reviews: Other books by Christian Gailly under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       French author Christian Gailly was born in 1943.

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© 2002-2010 the complete review

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