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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Régis Jauffret

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To purchase Severe

Title: Severe
Author: Régis Jauffret
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 168 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Severe - US
Severe - UK
Severe - Canada
Sévère - Canada
Severe - India
Sévère - France
Streng - Deutschland
Il banchiere - Italia
  • A Love Story
  • French title: Sévère
  • Translated by Joel Anderson
  • Sévère was filmed as Une histoire d'Amour (English title: Tied) in 2013, directed by Hélène Fillières

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Our Assessment:

B- : reasonably intriguing take on a sensational incident

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 23/3/2013 Russell Williams

  From the Reviews:
  • "It is his sparse prose that makes this novel compelling. There is a stylish blankness to the mistress's first-person confession, as she recalls fragments of the affair through a haze of champagne and antidepressants. This numbness of expression is at odds with the gritty, frequently visceral detail of the story. (...) The quality of Jauffret's language, which fluctuates between the precise and the poetic, ensures his writing never lapses into sensationalism. Severe is a dark, often brutal, but resoundingly subtle consideration of the dynamics between love, exploitation, sex and power." - Russell Williams, The Independent

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:

       Severe is closely based on an actual event, the 2005 murder of the very wealthy banker Édouard Stern by Cécile Brossard, notorious because Stern was found trussed up in a full-body latex sex suit and all sorts of sordid revelations emerged.
       Jauffret's novel is narrated by the killer, and gets straight to the point, beginning:

     I met him one spring evening. I became his mistress. I bought the latex suit he was wearing on the day he died. I acted as his sexual secretary. He introduced me to firearms. He gave me a revolver. I extorted a million dollars out of him. He took it back. I slaughtered him with a bullet between the eyes.
       She describes her actions after the murder -- briefly fleeing to Australia, her trial, and finally being in jail -- while also repeatedly recalling the past and what led up to the fateful day.
       The killer had the obligatory unpleasant childhood. Even though she only (briefly) held a single real job in her life she managed to get by quite well, with others supporting her as she managed to fall into the right hands. She has a devoted husband who was willing to put up with her relationship (and willing to do without a physical relationship with her) -- and who now regularly visits her in jail, patiently waiting until she is released.
       The relationship with her victim is, obviously, a very strange one. Ridiculously wealthy and powerful, he is also a very twisted soul. She fears for her life on occasion -- and is also convinced that he has something of a death wish. Obviously, there's lots of sex -- of sorts. As his 'sex secretary' (i.e. procurer) she describes collecting bodies for him, and some of the sex play, but on the whole Severe is decidedly unerotic: there's little description and detail, and indeed relatively little actual sex. Jauffret manages the odd balancing act of sex being central and yet somehow also largely negligible surprisingly well.
       In many respects this is a novel of power and control: the murder-victim wields immense power -- and has no problem wielding it, showing it off on a whim -- but also willingly hands it over entirely, turned on, as it were, by becoming the submissive. The narrator wields power too -- certainly over her husband, and often over the man she eventually kills -- but it is never as clear-cut for her.
       Severe's effectiveness comes almost entirely from its being closely based on actual events. As an invented fiction the story would be nothing more than lowest grade pulp fiction; as is, the facts support the story, and the reader can't help but be curious as to whether this fictionalization can offer any insight into what happened.
       As it turns out, Jauffret can offer little psychological (or other) insight. What he can offer is a story that has a certain drive -- enough, indeed, to make it, coupled with its factual basis, oddly compelling. With its unadorned dialogue and constantly changing scenes the novel is fast-paced. With a narrator who is a bad liar (as she admits) but nevertheless frequently resorts to lying Jauffret offers an interesting variation on the unreliable narrator. Ultimately, however, there's just too little substance and depth to Jauffret's portrait. (Tellingly, here the author only appears in a Preamble: "In this book, I bury myself in a crime", he explains -- but he's much more successful when he enters his fiction more fully: his talent lies in his own, blindingly self-absorbed voice, not in trying to assume others'.)
       In part it's the mixture of the bland and the sensational that helps hold interest: for example, there's a lot of jet-setting (and travel in general) and yet barely any locale is described as the least bit interesting or remarkable. Jauffret describes some of the trappings and benefits of wealth and power, but he doesn't indulge in it to the extent one might expect an author to: Jauffret is less interested in lifestyles of the rich and famous than in the psychologically damaged ways of people, and the consequences of that damage -- even as he remains almost obstinately incapable of doing more than presenting that damage, rather than trying to get at its roots. Jauffret understands that the story itself, based in fact as it is, can't hold many surprises for readers (so too he gets the death out of the way in the novel's opening lines), but even as this isn't a novel about what (as in: what happened), it's also barely about an imagined why.
       Obviously, much of the interest the novel holds is voyeuristic -- and Jauffret toys with the reader here in not making the peculiar sex-play dominant. Ultimately, it's the style and presentation that hold the reader's interest. Almost breathless, his narrator often unsympathetic, Jauffret has a style that can grate and irritate, but which goes with the story he is trying to present (and covers up the flaws in his approach, as so much here goes unexplained and even undescribed). As usual, too, he sometimes stretches things too far -- "I knew now that I had committed a crime of love" the narrator comes to realize -- but in its own odd way it all works reasonably well.
       Severe is a flawed relationship novel, as Jauffret doesn't offer enough of either his two main characters, but there's enough brio to the novel that he almost can get away with it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 February 2013

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Severe: Reviews: Une histoire d'Amour (Tied) - the film: Other books by Régis Jauffret under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Régis Jauffret was born in 1955.

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© 2013-2014 the complete review

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