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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Death of the Author

Gilbert Adair

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To purchase The Death of the Author

Title: The Death of the Author
Author: Gilbert Adair
Genre: Novel
Written: 1992
Length: 135 pages
Availability: The Death of the Author - US
The Death of the Author - UK
The Death of the Author - Canada
The Death of the Author - India
Der Tod des Autors - Deutschland
La morte dell'autore - Italia
La muerte del autor - España

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Our Assessment:

A : an elegant little literary tale, superbly rendered.

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 18/11/1997 Hannelore Schlaffer
Independent on Sunday . 23/8/1992 Lorna Sage
London Rev. of Books . 10/9/1992 Julian Symons
The Spectator . 29/8/1992 John Spurling

  From the Reviews:
  • "Der Professor kann sterben, aber nicht untergehen, weil sein Stil ihn verrät, so daß er als Autor überlebt." - Hannelore Schlaffer, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "It's a skilful and savage performance, with twists which one shouldn't reveal. And the central idea, that killing the Author is harder than it looks, has to be simply true. What has happened is that He is now unmasked, cavorting on the page along with the other characters; not an omniscient, anonymous figure, but a lying, local and irresponsible 'I'." - Lorna Sage, Independent on Sunday

  • "It's certainly expensive, working out at 10p a page or, if you take into account that the first four pages are twice repeated further on and that two stanzas of Keats' Ode to a Nightingale occupy another page, 11p. But although it's only a squib of a book, with no more lasting effect than a firework, it fizzes very satisfactorily and makes several pleasingly rude noises in the direction of that solemn academic priesthood, the deconstructionists. (...) Sfax characterises his own style as 'pseo- do-Jamesian embonpoint', though it is crisper and sharper-edged than that implies, while the subject and setting are inescapably Nabokovesque; at any rate, the whole thing is a highly polished piece of postmodernist marquetry." - John Spurling, The Spectator

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:

       Apart from his many other talents Gilbert Adair is an excellent stylist. Surprisingly few authors nowadays are. Reading Adair affords a rare pleasure -- the elegant writing flatters and seduces the reader. It is easily enough to win us over. But Adair offers plenty more, and the clever humour and the intellect underlying his fiction magnify the fun. This novel is an excellent example of what he is capable of.
       The Death of the Author is an exceptionally fine little novella. It is the story of Léopold Sfax, a Frenchman who came of age during World War II, emigrated to the United States, and rose through the ranks of academia to a professorship at an Ivy League institution in New Harbour (read New Haven). A literary scholar, he writes two enormously influential tomes, Either/Either and The Vicious Spiral. The latter makes him "by far the most celebrated critic in the United States." In it he proposes and propounds what becomes known simply as "the Theory," an ominous (and now all too familiar) literary fad of recent times. The main point: "so it was, with the advent of the Theory, that the Author was to find Himself declared well and truly dead." The text exists beyond the author, the author is irrelevant.
       "The Theory" is, of course, Adair's variation on post-modernist deconstructionism. The Theory is the theory of Derrida, Barthes -- and Paul de Man. Indeed, the story mirrors much of De Man's life, because it turns out that Sfax was a collaborator of sorts during the war, writing journalistic pieces sympathetic to the Nazi's under a pseudonym. Exactly like De Man did.
       But The Death of the Author is more than a retelling of the De Man story, and it is more than a lampoon of post-modernism and deconstructionism. Sfax is the ostensible author of this text, and we can never be sure how far to trust him (playing right into the hands of the Theory). He gives us two versions of his past, and he repeats the events that led to the writing of this text: a former student wants to write his biography. He is concerned about his past being discovered -- as he has been for much of his life. Indeed, it was the very hope to avoid discovery (or guilt, if he was discovered) that led to the invention of the Theory -- brilliantly explained by Adair.
       The tale turns, somewhat unexpectedly, into a tale of murder. But Adair knows exactly what he is doing, and the solution unfolds elegantly and simply and entirely satisfactorily.
       The last words of the novel call it a "mendacious and mischievous and meaningless book." Mendacious perhaps, mischievous certainly (and brilliantly), but meaningless ? Far from it.
       It is a crafty and subversive text, beautifully written, elegantly composed. The attack on literary theory is very well done, with a nice mixture of fact and fiction lending all his arguments credence. The novel affords both intellectual and sensual pleasure, and both in great measure.

       It is a "literary" thriller, and the literary and academic setting might seem dry to some. We found it anything but. Highly recommended.

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The Death of the Author: Reviews: Gilbert Adair Other books by Gilbert Adair under review: Other authors and books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Gilbert Adair (1944-2011) wrote several novels, as well as several works of non-fiction. He also translated Georges Perec's A Void, for which he won the Scott Moncrieff Prize.

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