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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The High Life

Jean-Pierre Martinet

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Title: The High Life
Author: Jean-Pierre Martinet
Genre: Novella
Written: 1979 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 33 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The High Life - US
The High Life - UK
The High Life - Canada
La grande vie - Canada
The High Life - India
La grande vie - France
  • French title: La grande vie
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Henry Vale

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Our Assessment:

B+ : grim but nicely executed

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Adolphe Marlaud narrates The High Life ('la grande vie'), but his is anything but. Diminutive-sized -- under five feet tall -- he lost his mother as an infant (she died in Auschwitz), and his father a decade later, when he was still very young. Physically, Adolphe seems stunted in that pre-teen age. He lives across from the Montparnasse cemetery, from which he watches over -- often through a mounted telescopic sight (which pares down the world to the simplest: "A circle, a cross. Absolute concision. Void") -- his father's grave. For as long as he has a job, it is part-time, at a local funerary shop.
       Adolphe has reduced his ambitions and activity to a minimum:

My rule of conduct was simple: live as little as possible so as to suffer as little as possible.
       He claims to want to go unnoticed, but then goes sniffing around the younger women in mourning who visit the shop where he works. Unsuccessful in his own efforts to approach women, he is overwhelmed when one sets her sights on him: concierge Madame C. -- "that mass of darkness, that devourer." A huge woman, she takes complete control over him during the sexual act, which is -- very well -- described as though she were consuming him.
       It's no surprise that Adolphe also finds the sexual act to be like being expelled from within her -- like being born. Adolphe clearly has mommy-issues. Daddy issues, too: as his name and date of birth suggest -- to name a child born in France in 1942 'Adolphe' was a very loud proclamation of allegiances -- Adolphe comes with considerable baggage; those rumors about his father betraying his Jewish mother certainly must weigh heavily on him, not helped by the fact that his father abandoned him (by dying) before he reached adolescence.
       The High Life is barely a short story -- twenty-six pages -- but justifies its stand-alone presentation, in a volume padded slightly by translator Henry Vale's helpful introduction about this author who is so little known (and was previously untranslated into English). The "absolute concision" makes for a small-size volume, a beautiful little pocket-fitting one, but the content also packs enough of a punch to warrant such a presentation. Martinet's book is bleak (as, apparently, were his others), but he knew how to write.
       There are some nice literary touches, too, suggesting the very solid grounding of Martinet's writing: Madame C. likes to read, so Adolphe gives her several books -- both suggesting his own literary interests and illustrating the gulf between him and the concierge (who, to put it mildly, doesn't quite 'get' these works) -- and as he declines ever more rapidly, it's words from Strindberg's Inferno that come to his mind.
       The High Life is just an amuse-gueule as far as Martinet's writing goes -- well, less amuse than a bracing shot of hard liquor, perhaps -- but it's a fine, small piece of work, and certainly leaves the reader with a (slightly wary) appetite for a larger portion.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 November 2012

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The High Life: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Jean-Pierre Martinet lived 1944 to 1993.

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© 2012 the complete review

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