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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Thursday Night Men

by
Tonino Benacquista


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

To purchase The Thursday Night Men



Title: The Thursday Night Men
Author: Tonino Benacquista
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 242 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Thursday Night Men - US
The Thursday Night Men - UK
The Thursday Night Men - Canada
Homo erectus - Canada
The Thursday Night Men - India
Homo erectus - France
Gli uomini del giovedì - Italia
Homo erectus - España
  • French title: Homo erectus
  • Translated by Alison Anderson

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Our Assessment:

B : an entertaining and busy ride (though morally (and romantically) rather dubious)

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 27/8/2012 .


  From the Reviews:
  • "Though Benacquista keeps his stories moving briskly, he falls on his face with his female characters. (...) Clichéd and glib, Benacquista’s latest effort constitutes another male fantasy of moral relativism -- and a betrayal of an intriguing premise." - Publishers Weekly

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 Thursday Night Men begins with the description of a sort of semi-secret men's group of about hundred people (the members changing with time, the total remaining fairly constant) that meets every Thursday night at different venues. At each meeting one or two get up in front of the crowd and tell their story. What they talk about is their relationships with women, and it is this opening-up that is meant to be cathartic: these aren't group-therapy sessions -- custom has it that: "no one must react to any of the stories" -- but sometimes some of the men do get together afterwards and talk.
       The three central characters become, for a while, such 'Thursday night men' who also get together afterwards -- attending their first session when the novel opens. Each has some women-issues: well-known public intellectual and philosopher Philippe suffers from a heart broken so hard it's practically shattered; waiter Denis thinks no woman can possibly be interested in him any longer; and Yves has tried to wipe all traces of his wife from his life after she cheated on him.
       At the Thursday sessions they hear others talk of their relationships (allowing Benacquista to imagine some creative sorts of problems and situations men can get themselves into in dealing with women), but each also soon finds his life changed, forcing him to rethink his relationship(s) with women.
       The changes range from the entirely passive -- Denis very amusingly finds himself with a female presence in his life that he can't explain (and can't rid himself of) -- to the very pro-active, as Yves gives up on romance and decides to indulge in getting sexual satisfaction handled entirely professionally (he has a large amount of money saved up, so he can pay his way for a wide variety of experiences). Meanwhile, Philippe finds himself becoming involved with a beautiful model, an international celebrity who represents almost the opposite of all his ideals.
       Oddly, for a novel that takes as its premise men opening up in front of others, these three characters don't immediately share what's happening in their lives with each other; indeed, each keeps secret the dramatic turns that come while the three still get together. But then Benacquista largely gives up on his big and small confessional ideas, with the novel rotating through the stories of the three men as they go their different paths (although the Thursday group idea is not entirely abandoned, and also allows Benacquista a nice and neat closing turn).
       The three men's paths are fairly amusing, and the presentation, constantly rotating quickly through their adventures, makes for entertaining reading. Baffled Denis doesn't know what hit him, while Philippe suddenly finds himself in a celebrity world that's far outside his comfort-zone. Yves, meanwhile, thinks that he's in complete control because he's paying for fantasies, but learns things aren't quite that simple either.
       Matters neatly resolve themselves -- simply, in the case of Denis, extremely (melo-)dramatically, in the case of Philippe. There's an artificiality to it all -- a too neat arc of resolution, a too convenient confluence of events -- but then Benacquista emphasizes the artificiality of it all from the first, with his premise of a story-telling club where men, when they are ready, unburden themselves, and that's that, no "counterpoint, question, or commentary, no matter how kindly" expected or permitted.
       The story -- or stories -- move at a good clip. Benacquista has all the right storyteller instincts, and uses them well here, both on a small and large scale. There are some nice scenes, too, and often as not Benacquista nails it: for example, one of the prostitutes Yves gets to know starts to fall for him, and he has to gently let her down -- "he did not love her enough not to pay her".
       All that said, The Thursday Night Men also paints a rather disturbing picture of male attitudes towards women, and relationships. Just as there's fairly little communication between the men themselves, there's very little communication between any of the couples, with everyone withholding information or holding back emotions (until the occasional explosion, much too late -- and immediately interrupted by rather bigger events). Typically, one of Yves' favorite women-for-hire is a Polish women with whom he literally can't communicate, since she speaks practically no French or English; each just babbles in their native language -- and then they have sex, a situation that's apparently ... ideal. As his premise suggests, Benacquista completely misses the point of a mutual exchange of ideas, concerns, thoughts, and emotions (which allows these also to evolve and mature) -- surely the basis of any relationship. He instead, has everyone bottle everything up until it all leads to some sort of crisis or epiphany -- and then they're ready to tell the whole finished story, all neatly packaged in final form (i.e. exactly what the members of the Thursday group do).
       Women are presented as healers (of sorts) here, playing a role (but never really a part of these three men's lives: each of the men maintains a certain distance and reserve to the women they are involved with). Their involvement with these three men allows the men to move on: sure, sometimes the men also help some of the women -- Yves takes on a different role in their lives when he finally begins to figure things out, for example -- but they are all transition-figures, being used and then discarded. In some cases, the women willingly go their own ways afterwards; nevertheless, it all feels rather unsavory.
       The Thursday Night Men is, ultimately, a sort of 'chick-lit' from the male perspective, men trying to figure out and come to terms with their relationships with women. It is an entertaining read -- but sends a message that is not very reassuring about men and women ever being able to understand one another (not that they try very hard here).

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 September 2012

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Links:

The Thursday Night Men: Reviews: Other books by Tonino Benacquista under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Tonino Benacquista was born in 1961.

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© 2012-2013 the complete review

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