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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Sextine Chapel

by
Hervé Le Tellier


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Sextine Chapel



Title: The Sextine Chapel
Author: Hervé Le Tellier
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 86 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Sextine Chapel - US
The Sextine Chapel - UK
The Sextine Chapel - Canada
La chapelle Sextine - Canada
The Sextine Chapel - India
La chapelle Sextine - France
  • French title: La chapelle Sextine
  • Translated by Ian Monk

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Our Assessment:

B : limited but playful coupling-variations

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bomb . Spring/2011 Lee Ann Brown
Publishers Weekly . 30/5/2011 .


  From the Reviews:
  • "The Sextine Chapel is a more nakedly laid-out series of sex scenarios, each in a half-page of prose. Proceeding through a kind of spirographic, tag-team dance card, one member of the first amorous pair goes on to engage with someone new on the next page, who, in turn, carries the torch on to the next tryst and so on. (...) Le Tellier teases out the erotic space between intellectual bodies getting it on in a kind of mathematical chapel of love" - Lee Ann Brown, Bomb

  • "In this clever literary bonbon, 26 characters get it on in 78 vignettes, ranging from the banal to the raunchy. (...) At its best, Le Tellier's English-language debut seduces the reader with its wry wit" - 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:

       The Sextine Chapel is a work of both systematic and (seemingly) random sexual couplings. Oulipo-author Le Tellier works with several constraints here, as he presents an alphabetical ronde of what are more or less sex-acts (ranging from fondling to intercourse, though the chapters include sexless post-coital scenes (one partner asleep) and the like as well). It's one couple per chapter, beginning with Anna and Ben getting it on and then advancing (Ben and Chloe, Chloe and Dennis, etc.) all the way to Zach and Anna. But it doesn't end there: there is a criss-crossing of partners, as each of the twenty-six participants hooks up with five others, all in a neat Oulipian symmetry: a diagram at the end of the book of the ceiling of the 'Sextine chapel' shows the geometrical pattern at work here.
       Each chapter consists only of a single short descriptive paragraph, of A and B (or X and Y) engaged (more or less) in some sort of mutual sexual activity, as well as a shorter note appended to it, describing what goes through one or the other's mind, or some other observation (including such as: "Ursula does not realize that, confronted by his swollen member, she now has the reptilian gaze of a crocodile in a tanner's workshop"). There is some overlap, and there are various echoes, such as a repeated Bataille-quote; as the sex acts wend there way around and back and forth there is also some causal advancement (what X does with Y coloring what Y does with Z, etc.), though hardly enough that one could speak of any sort of plot. Sex is the thing here, the individual acts the focus -- though there's no effort to be particularly encyclopedic (the variations are, given the possibilities, rather limited), and the acts themselves include their share of disappointments ("Galata's heroic efforts are having no effect on Zach's member, which remains more like a noodle than a triumphant totem pole").
       Each chapter is so short that these remained limited descriptions -- little more than brief sex scenes -- but Le Tellier sketches them out fairly amusingly and well. Though there's limited variation among the acts themselves, his carefully phrased descriptions make for enough variety to prevent the collection from getting tiresome. And there are some genuinely funny scenes, as well as clever after-thoughts in the secondary bit to each chapter (from Niels, "Stunned by this festival of literary clichés", to what Mao's wife Jiang Qing supposedly sometimes added to one of Mao's comments).
       And there's the occasional bit of wisdom, too:

For the clumsy, the clitoris is the Rubik's Cube of sex: they can fiddle around with it for hours without getting anywhere.
       This being an Oulipian work (and translated by another Oulipo member, Ian Monk), there are several layers to the text, too, and the author's adherence to various constraints (without getting too much in the way of simpl(er) reading pleasure) is mildly impressive; readers can, if they wish, puzzle over what else Le Tellier and Monk have hidden and done here.
       It all makes for an entertaining little volume, a fine little sequence of divertissements (though don't expect too much titillation)

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 April 2011

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Links:

The Sextine Chapel: Reviews: OuLiPo: Other books by Hervé Le Tellier under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Hervé Le Tellier was born in 1957. He is a member of the Oulipo.

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© 2011-2013 the complete review

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