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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Ring

Elisabeth Horem

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To purchase The Ring

Title: The Ring
Author: Elisabeth Horem
Genre: Novel
Written: 1994 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 135 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Ring - US
The Ring - UK
The Ring - Canada
Le ring - Canada
The Ring - India
Le ring - France
Der Ring - Deutschland
  • French title: Le ring
  • Translated by Jane Kuntz

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Our Assessment:

C : frequently seems on the verge of something, but never gets very far

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Ring begins promisingly enough: Quentin Corval's lover, Louise, breaks the news to him that she's dumping him and marrying his brother, Gilles -- and that the new couple is headed off to America, where Gilles has been hired by an American university. Taken by complete surprise, Quentin makes up a story about how he was about to tell her that, in fact, he was setting off abroad as well -- to Tahas (the first place that comes to mind). Tahas -- a fictional 'real' place -- is presented without much geographic specificity: it could be (and most likely is) desolately Middle Eastern, but could also pass for Central Asian. Quentin had seen an ad for a job in Tahas -- that's how the name came to him -- and he winds up answering the ad, and getting the job. Before he knows it, he's ready to start a new life far removed from his old.
       French author Horem studied Arabic and is married to a Swiss diplomat who has been posted to Egypt, Libya, Iraq, and Syria over the years (as well as still-Soviet Mosocw), and The Ring seems informed -- and far too influenced -- by this background and her experience of these places. Horem takes considerable care (and painfully visible effort) to create a fictional locale that can't readily be identified as any real place, but it still feels far too grounded in experience: Tahas is an allegorical representation, but lacks the leap of imagination that convincing fiction requires. It feels straight our of Writing 101: a dash of 'Kafka' plus exotic Orient, cautiously stirred (so that very little is stirred up). Suggesting just how limited Horem's reach and daring is, her Quentin almost immediately winds up working in, of all places, his native country's consulate in Tahas (which isn't the job he signed up for).
       The Ring is a novel that offers repeated points where the narrative seems poised to leap into a welcome strange unknown -- but Horem plods on instead. Lost lover Louise and betraying brother Gilles serve practically no purpose beyond to give that initial shove and there's practically no other fallout or use for them and their adventures (America ! domesticity !). Worse, Quentin's escape from the job that he takes in Tahas -- he bails after the first day -- doesn't lead to a radical change but rather finds him retreating to what is essentially home: if not quite Europe, it is at least European ground, the diplomatic offices that are his native country's consulate. An escape from Tahas -- he goes on a vacation expedition to seaside Azga, and overstays a few days (without telling anyone back at the consulate) -- winds up not being a real break either.
       Oh, yes, there's 'the Ring' in Tahas:

that wide boulevard which described a perfect circle on the city map. Twenty years ago all foreign residents in Tahas were obliged to live on the Ring and nowhere else. With the new regime, that rule was relaxed, along with many others, but the curious custom remained, and foreigners went on living there, even now, with a few rare exceptions.
       At least Quentin does move beyond that, becoming one of those rare exceptions as he moves into another neighborhood. Perhaps by the tamest of prim and proper Swiss standards this breaking out of the norm and expectations, the straight (well, curved ...) and narrow, is ... dramatic, but Horem manages to do little with this commonplace story-line either. Yes, yes, Quentin eventually finds himself facing the abyss -- he doesn't belong here, after, all, as repeated encounters with a local named Ghazi make abundantly clear -- but it's not a particularly surprising or interesting or gripping (or touching) confrontation, not rising beyond the most by-the-numbers type culture clash (with that dash of existential Angst and 'Kafkaesque' despair).
       Quentin repeatedly lets himself be taken advantage of by this Ghazi, sometimes rationalizing that he's trying to help him out, but the encounters between the foreigner/stranger/colonialist -- privileged (if clueless) white man Quentin -- and the local are all almost textbook (or at least straight out of existential-colonial literature 101).
       Horem winds things up reasonably well, but by that time it also feels like the near-inevitable outcome and conclusion. Worse, Quentin's disintegration and fate are barely affecting -- in any way -- by that point, in what has been too plodding a narrative.
       If Horem's narrative were consistently, willfully anti-climactic she might have been on to something; as is, it just feels hesitant and unimaginative. There is, ultimately, a modestly effective climax -- but with a build-up that is first too weak and then too obvious it can't save or redeem the novel as a whole.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 April 2013

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The Ring: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Elisabeth Horem was born in France in 1955.

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© 2013 the complete review

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