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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Red Haze

Christian Gailly

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To purchase Red Haze

Title: Red Haze
Author: Christian Gailly
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng.: 2005)
Length: 108 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Red Haze - US
Red Haze - UK
Red Haze - Canada
Nuage rouge - Canada
Nuage rouge - France
  • French title: Nuage rouge
  • Translated by Brian Evenson and David Beus
  • The French title was not literally translated (as Red Cloud) in order: "to avoid confusion with other books published by the University of Nebraska Press"

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Our Assessment:

B+ : creepy, disturbing, unsympathetic, well-told

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 29/12/2000 Oliver Robinson
World Lit. Today . Winter/2001 Brian Evenson

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A)n artful and ironic portrait of love and friendship. (...) Gailly's characters are emotional fugitives, outsiders incapable of enlightenment, who circle the past as if it were some morbid curio adorning the Louvre.(...) Beyond the novel's psychological smokescreen, Gailly's poetics are experimental and playful. Much of the novel's slipperiness derives from the habitual jumps and regressions, and the narrator's sharp eye for detail set against more generalized evocations of mood and character." - Oliver Robinson, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The success of the story lies in its narration, in Gailly's ability to offer wonderfully textured sentences, to move back ward and forward in time, to offer the narrative in twists and curves. Subtly dark and slightly instable, the texturing of the voice recalls Nabokov (.....) The novel is more plot-driven than much of his other writing, and Gailly knows how to reveal details gradually, giving the reader enough to forestall frustration but not enough to compromise the mystery of the story." - 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:

       Red Haze is a short novella, but with its very short sentences, short chapters, and jerky progression (the story moving in a few fits and starts, holding back and returning to events) it feels considerably fuller than it appears. (It is padded to just over a hundred pages with the help of four breaks, blank pages that are first grainy grey then black -- as if the reader actually needed a clearer demonstration of what a dark pit s/he's sunk in .....)
       Red Haze is narrated in the first person; typically, the narrator only sees fit to actually introduce himself by name on the last page ("It's time I introduced myself. Sylvère Fonda. Nice to meet you."). The novel begins with an event that changes his life. He's already had a bad day -- the laboratory where he works is going to be closed -- when he comes across Lucien on his way home. Lucien has had even worse day: he'd helped a woman who had run out of gas, then tried to sexually assault her (a ladies man, he didn't take rejection well) but she'd managed to make him pay -- ensuring, in fact, that he'd never try (or be able) to do that sort of thing again.
       Sylvère gets the bloody, mutilated Lucien to the hospital. The shock of what he sees actually does him some good: he came back from Algeria when he was twenty with a stutter, caused by the sight of some friends of his butchered there, but this new horror jolts him back to being able to speak normally. However, Lucien's condition and situation gains hold of him, and though they weren't so close before Sylvère now visits him daily. Sylvère' wife, Suzanne, meanwhile, isn't thrilled about his new-found obsession.
       The woman who took the knife to Lucien was a foreigner, a Danish woman named Rebecca Lodge, it turns out. Lucien doesn't press any charges, but he can't let this defining incident go. And Sylvère, who passed her driving away from the scene in Lucien's car, is also marked by it. When they find out that she's in Copenhagen Lucien sends Sylvère there on his behalf.
       A strange sort of cat-and-mouse game is played out in Copenhagen, too, and things then get even messier back home. Suzanne doesn't like what's happening to Sylvère, while Lucien has one more big favour to ask. Sylvère is caught up in it all, half puppet-master, half puppet.
       It's the writing that really propels this increasingly creepy story, Sylvère's roundabout approach occasionally tiresome but ultimately effective. A story of obsession and fatalism, Red Haze is consistently discomforting. Gailly offers a bit of blood but hardly any gore, and yet this ostensibly delicate touch -- not describing the sexual assault, or the mutilation -- make it all even more horrible. This isn't a noir novel, but it's more unsettling than most noir fiction is.
       Unpredictable (in both what happens and how it is presented), often unpleasant, with the narrator a not very sympathetic character, Red Haze is a particularly disconcerting read. Even in its conclusion -- an appropriate one -- it's hardly satisfying, and yet surprisingly successful.

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Red Haze: 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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© 2005-2010 the complete review

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