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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

    

Choice Cuts

by
Thomas Boileau and Pierre Narcejac


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

To purchase Choice Cuts



Title: Choice Cuts
Author: Boileau-Narcejac
Genre: Novel
Written: 1965 (Eng. 1966)
Length: 207 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Choice Cuts - US
Choice Cuts - UK
Choice Cuts - Canada
... Et mon tout est un homme - Canada
... Et mon tout est un homme - France
Mensch auf Raten - Deutschland
Pezzi d'uomo scelti - Italia
  • French title: ... Et mon tout est un homme
  • Translated by Brian Rawson
  • Choice Cuts was made into a film in 1991, Body Parts, directed by Eric Red

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Our Assessment:

B : preposterous but brisk, and genuinely creepy

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Sunday Times . 21/8/1966 Mary Conroy
The Times A+ 15/6/1968 .
TLS A 18/8/1966 Vernon Scannell


  From the Reviews:
  • "The authors are obviously determined to tell a good story without too much subtlety and one reads on, sure there will be a good final twist. There is, though it comes thirteen pages too early for perfection. To hell with perfection. It's one of those rubbishy books you can't put down." - Mary Conroy, Sunday Times

  • "A splendidly tasteless story (.....) The combination of grisly black comedy, science fiction and satire works superbly, and the unexpeceted final twist is a piece of fiendish brilliance well worthy of these two great French mystery writers." - The Times

  • "It all sounds preposterous, yet it is the authors' remarkable achievement that they make suspension of disbelief quite easy, and they weave a mystery, the brilliantly horrifying solution of which few readers will foresee. The translation is unobtrusively excellent, the narrative pace never falters (.....) Choice Cuts is a first-rate entertainment" - Vernon Scannell, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Choice Cuts is presented as a report written by one Garric, private secretary to the Commissioner of Police, who is so worried and alarmed by the events he has witnessed and been party to that he chronicles them all and, with a cover letter, intends to send them to none less than the President of the (French) Republic, convinced that: "The truth that I discovered must be made known to the highest authority in the land". He has quite the tale to tell.
       It began when the Commissioner summoned him to tell him of a great experiment that was being prepared. The day of reckoning for notorious thief René Myrtil, condemned to death (he killed two guards in the course of his last great heist), was approaching, and he is just the test-subject scientist Anton Marek has been looking for. Marek -- "both Einstein and Joanovici at one and the same time. A mixture of genius and rather sordid dabbler" -- had made great advances in the area of medical transplants (generally called 'grafts' here), and now wanted to do a large-scale test -- essentially transplanting all the parts of an entire body (to different people in need -- an arm here, a leg there, etc.). The French government is all on board -- the catchy and appropriate code-name they've given the project is: Lernaean Hydra --, and Myrtil has apparently agreed to be the donor, given that he's going to lose his head anyway ..... (As long as France had the death penalty, guillotining was the preferred method of execution.)
       As Garric is later told:

The truth of the matter is that the whole thing was arranged by the Ministry of National Defence. [...] With our forty-eight million inhabitants we are a small country compared to America, Russia or China. If war breaks out, we shall have the bomb, all right ... but don't forget the 1914-18 holocaust which was supposed to finish us. Now, thanks to Marek, with every man who dies -- if he isn't too badly messed up -- we shall be able to heal five, six, seven wounded men, to gain five, six, seven soldiers. Do you begin to see what I'm getting at ? With a thousand dead we may, with a bit of luck, be able to make 7,000 new fighters.
       It's a large-scale operation that has been prepared: the donor-body isn't the issue, but Marek and his team have to find suitable recipients at just the right time. So all accidents are reported and the appropriately injured shuttled to the site where all this is to take place. And it all goes pretty much as planned: seven victims are made whole -- and Myrtil is completely dismembered.
       Each of Myrtil's arms and legs goes to a different accident-victim -- including a painter and an abbé --, the heart and lungs to a student who dabbles in music, the head (!) to bank employee Nérisse, and: "as for the rest, it was grafted on to one man, Francis Jumauge" (in to might be the better way of putting that), whose pelvis had been completely crushed. Marek's method seems to work -- the grafts aren't rejected -- and physically the patients recover quite quickly -- with head-man Nérisse taking longest for the head to properly take. (The theory here is that while Nérisse got Myrtil's head, his mind remains his own, the authors doing without much physiological explanation or exploration here .....)
       Psychologically, things aren't quite so simple -- and not just for Nérisse, who recognizes immediately whose head he now bears. The woman who now has a man's leg finds it hard to accept this one-sided masculine look, while the painter is frustrated that his new arm won't let him practice his craft as he used to. And then the body parts seem to have a bit of a mind of their own, or at least to exert an unhealthy influence on their new owners. Eventually the two new-legged patients, right and left, even hook up and plan to get married, reuniting the pair at least in conjugal form .....
       Complicating matters is Myrtil's mistress, Régine Mancel -- conveniently in prison herself for a short stretch at that time when Myrtil meats his (re)maker, but eager then to pay her respects at his (non-existent -- there was nothing to bury) grave and then soon enough getting wise to the fact that something fishy is up. Garric is charged with trying to make sure she doesn't make too much a fuss, but he can't help both eventually spilling the beans -- not that she hasn't figured most of it out herself -- and also beginning to fall for the attractive young woman.
       The patched-up patients continue to have issues, complaining to various degrees about matters great and small. The abbé is pretty stoical, but the rest are much more fussy. Still, some also begin to find advantage in their new conditions: the student-musician suddenly finds his music taking off, while the painter, going in a new direction, is suddenly a hot artist -- as much for his story and notoriety as his art, but still .....
       Matters take a darker turn when the patients start committing suicide, one by one. Or seem to be committing suicide -- Garric begins to have his doubts as the bodies pile up (and other things don't quit add up). Marek is always immediately called to the scene and, with the help of the authorities, the deaths are quickly and discreetly taken care of, the bodies whisked off ..... The project has to be protected, and these small set-backs must be kept secret to keep the public from turning on this great advance .....
       As Garric realizes, the big -- still emerging -- picture looks a bit different than the one he has been watching. If not exactly misplaced, his concerns have led him to miss other signs. It all leads up to a nicely creepy and twisted resolution.
       There have been great advances both in medicine and the modern medical thriller since Choice Cuts appeared more than half a century ago, and the novel does look quite old-fashioned -- more Frankenstein than Robin Cook -- from a contemporary vantage point. Very light on the science, it nevertheless is a pretty decent little thriller -- an enjoyable read, as long as readers are willing to generously suspend disbelief for the duration. The subject-matter is rather lightly treated, though Boileau-Narcejac at least play around a bit with the psychological impacts of another person's limbs (and organs) suddenly replacing one's own. The ethical debates -- from the (mad-)scientist responsible for this to the government supporting the project (and its secrecy) for its own purposes -- also get rather short shrift, but at least there's a bit of discussion of aspects of these. The black humor certainly helps -- not least with the outcome, including of the letter and report Garric writes, as well as Marek (who certainly gets his, in a nice final twist).
       Juggling seven patients (and the mistress, and the authorities) is a bit much for Garric (and Boileau-Narcejac), but on the whole the novel moves at a crisp pace and includes some nice encounters. The authors' quality shows through too in some of the smaller, more incidental scenes -- as with the gallery-owner who is willing to take on the new-armed artist:
     'Gaubrey will last two or three years . . as a painter.'
     'But ... has he any talent ?'
     Massart looked at me half-surprised and half-amused, and pushed towards me a box full of American cigarettes.
     'Talent ?' he mused. 'I once thought I knew what talent was. Now there's just what sells and what doesn't sell. Gaubrey will sell just as long as the novelty lasts. My job is to pander to the craze. Painting is like a forest fire. Suddenly the flames spread, the smoke can be seen from miles away, and prices soar ... When the fire won't catch by itself, I'm the one who applies the match ... As far as Gaubrey's concerned, I shall have a little brushwood blaze. It won't do all that much, but one never knows.'
     'But what happens afterwards ?' I asked. 'When Gaubrey's pictures don't sell any more ?'
     'My dear sir, I live in the short term, like everyone else nowadays. I hope that Gaubrey is sufficiently intelligent not to ask himself too many questions ... If he still suffers from illusions, you should advise him to change his occupation.'
       If a bit dated, Choice Cuts is still an enjoyable little read -- built on an unusual (if admittedly way too ambitious) and certainly entertaining premise that the authors use quite well.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 December 2018

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Links:

Choice Cuts: Reviews: Body Parts - the film: Other books by Boileau-Narcejac under review:
  • She Who Was No More (also published as: The Woman who Was No More; The Woman who Was; and The Fiends)
  • Vertigo (also published as: The Living and the Dead)
Other books of interest under review:

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About the Authors:

       French authors Pierre Boileau (1906-1989) and Thomas Narcejac (1908-1998) wrote many mysteries and thrillers together, as Boileau-Narcejac.

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© 2018 the complete review

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