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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Closed Book

Gilbert Adair

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To purchase A Closed Book

Title: A Closed Book
Author: Gilbert Adair
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999
Length: 258 pages
Availability: A Closed Book - UK
Availability: A Closed Book - UK
A Closed Book - Canada
Blindband - Deutschland
  • A Closed Book was made into a film in 2009, later also called Blind Revenge; it was directed by Raoul Ruiz and starred Tom Conti and Daryl Hannah

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Our Assessment:

B+ : clever, claustrophobic, and entertaining

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph B+ 9/10/1999 Jane Shilling
FAZ . 30/11/1999 Julia Encke
The Guardian A- 29/9/1999 Jonathan Romney
The Guardian . 20/10/2000 Isobel Montgomery
The Independent A 25/9/1999 Kim Newman
Independent on Sunday A 26/9/1999 Steven Poole
New Statesman B 25/10/1999 Vicky Hutchings
The Observer A 29/10/1999 Simon Beckett
The Spectator A- 2/10/1999 Francis King
TLS . 24/9/1999 Sean O'Brien
Die Welt . 29/11/1999 Oliver Jahn
Die Zeit A+ (42/1999) Michael Maar

  Review Consensus:

  Generally positive. Adair is an accomplished writer, doing what he does very well. Some of it seemed just too unlikely, but a clever, literary thriller.

  From the Reviews:
  • "The early portions of the book, with their slippy interplay of intimacy and mistrust, and questions about the nature of appearances, all ingeniously encapsulated within a brisk, vivid narrative, are remarkable. But as the novel approaches its crisis, and the drama intensifies, Adair’s grip on it appears to falter. The writing coarsens and the two climactic scenes are executed with a lack of tension that appears, after the brilliance of what has preceded them, almost wilful." - Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph

  • "Adair färbt seinen Blindband von der ersten Seite an mit dunkler Romantik ein. (...) In die nackte Wirklichkeit des Schänders verwandelt er das Phantasma der Romantik. Sein Blindband erzählt vom Einbruch des Realen." - Julia Encke, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Adair elegantly folds his abstract concerns into a macabre, deceptively light divertissement. (...) Although Adair's (A Closed Book) sometimes comes across as an all too knowing example of the all-is-not-what-it-seems thriller, its sense of paradox always gives it the edge. There is more to it than meets the eye -- or, in this case, does not meet it." - Jonathan Romney, The Guardian

  • "Delightfully simple and ever so playful, Adair leads the reader through a mystery with intellectual bite." - Isobel Montgomery, The Guardian

  • "If the revelation of motive here is a touch overfamiliar (...) the finale -- which sends the reader scurrying back through the book to look again at key passages in order to puzzle out just what is likely to happen after the last page -- is deliciously apt and unsettling." - Kim Newman, the Independent

  • "A Closed Book is a virtuosically elaborated jeu d'esprit, yet it depends so thoroughly on a handful of conjuring twists that to describe any more than the bare bones of plot would risk giving the whole game away. (...) (I)t is the increasingly uncommon virtue of A Closed Book that it is so obsessively like a novel and nothing else. You might call it Hitchcockian, except that it simply would not work in any other medium." - Steven Poole, Independent on Sunday

  • "As in all Adair's novels, you feel he thinks more of design and arrangement, of sending signs to members of an insider audience (and often the same signs), than he does of entertaining the reader." - Vicky Hutchings, New Statesman

  • "A clever and original thriller that saves its nastiest surprises for the end." - Simon Beckett, The Observer

  • "(D)espite this straining of credulity, the book remains a sparklingly clever, adroit and entertaining one." - Francis King, The Spectator

  • "There are several such grin-inducing passages in A Closed Book, and because of these signs of life it seems mean to wonder why Adair has gone to the trouble of producing something so polished, witty and well-informed and yet so dishearteningly empty and imaginatively degenerate that even Roald Dahl might have wondered if he could really get away with it this time." - Sean O'Brien, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Wer hier bloß zwischen den Zeilen sucht, wird Wesentliches verpassen. Denn selbst die mitunter fehlenden Wortabstände, die entrüstet nach dem Korrektor rufen lassen, verdichten sich zu einer hinterlistigen Ästhetik der Zwischenräume, die es aufzuschlüsseln gilt. Gilbert Adair versteht es aufs Beste, literaturtheoretisch brisante Fragen um den Status von Autor und Leser in spannende Geschichten zu überführen. Dieser Autor muss vom deutschen Lesepublikum unbedingt entdeckt werden." - Oliver Jahn, Die Welt

  • "Blindband -- etwas so Furioses und bösartig Brillantes wie diesen jüngsten Roman Gilbert Adairs gab es lange nicht mehr. (...) Und harmlos sind auch diese Makel, die diesem Roman nicht schaden können; ein Teufelsbraten von einem Buch, das aus allen Äderchen platzt vor Intelligenz und Gilbert Adair als den Meister erweist, der sich schon lange in ihm räkelt." - Michael Maar, Die Zeit

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:

       Gilbert Adair's A Closed Book again focusses on a small, isolated world, with a writer at its center. Several years before the book opens Booker winner Sir Paul suffered a devastating car accident in Sri Lanka that left him not only blind but literally eyeless, grossly disfigured. He lives cut off from the world, ignoring television, radio, and newspapers, practically his only human contact being with his Scottish housekeeper, Mrs. Kilbride.
       After years of withdrawal from the public and literary world he decides to write a book -- a memoir. He advertises for an amanuensis, which brings John Ryder to his door. Both find that they can work together, and so Ryder comes to stay and work with Sir Paul five days out of the week.
       A Closed Book is presented almost entirely in the form of dialogue, an effective means of presenting Sir Paul's point of view. Adair, always interested in challenging (and subverting) the strictures and conventions of literature from within, has Paul compare the situation of the reader to that of a blind person:

(...) the blind man gains access to the world around him exactly as the reader of a novel gains access to the imaginative world conjured up by the writer. (...) Which is to say, essentially through dialogue and description.
       Paul has Ryder describe the world around him, to be his eyes (as the novelist is the reader's eyes) -- and he engages him in conversation. Adair sets all this up quite well, but, of course, he has more up his sleeve. Indeed, eyes and readers are readily deceived and things are not quite what they seem in the book. Both Paul and Ryder hide their pasts -- but, as pasts are wont to do, these catch up with them. And Adair does not spare the dark denouement.
       The reader only slowly catches on -- able to rely only on what Adair reveals. There is more than one twist as Adair turns the screw tighter and tighter. Needless to say, the fictional memoir is eventually titled A Closed Book (the original working title being Truth and Consequences). The world is not entirely a closed book to the sightless man, but truth and consequences catch up with both him and his amanuensis. Paul's memoir is not quite a closed book, nor is his life; nothing ever is.
       Some of what is presented is a bit too convenient or unlikely, but Adair dresses it up cleverly enough that it always entertains. Not quite as profound as it perhaps hopes to be this is nevertheless an enjoyable entertainment. Recommended.

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A Closed Book: Reviews: A Closed Book - the film (a.k.a. Blind Revenge): 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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