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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

No Tomorrow

Vivant Denon

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To purchase No Tomorrow

Title: No Tomorrow
Author: Vivant Denon
Genre: Novel
Written: 1777, rev. 1812 (Eng. 1997)
Length: 79 pages
Original in: French
Availability: No Tomorrow - US
No Tomorrow - UK
No Tomorrow - Canada
Point de lendemain - Canada
No Tomorrow - India
Point de lendemain - France
Nur eine Nacht - Deutschland
Senza domani - Italia
Sin mañana - España
  • French title: Point de lendemain
  • Translated by Lydia Davis
  • This translation originally published in The Libertine Reader (Zone Books, 1997); this NYRB edition published 2009
  • With an Introduction by Peter Brooks
  • Previously translated by David Coward (1995)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : charming small piece, nicely packaged in this edition

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 13/11/2009 Adrian Tahourdin
The Washington Post A 10/12/2009 Michael Dirda

  From the Reviews:
  • "Lydia Davisís translation is equal to the challenges of Denonís formal, elaborate prose, and there is little to choose between her version and the excellent one produced by David Coward in 1995. (...) This elegant edition reproduces Denonís original text, which remains, by common consent, a masterpiece." - Adrian Tahourdin, Times Literary Supplement

  • "You can read No Tomorrow in just an hour. Its chiaroscuro effects of candlelight and shadow, its teasing tone, its picture of gradual unveiling and dishabille will keep you both charmed and on edge. Embrace the gradualness, the anticipation. There's no need to rush." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

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:

       In length, No Tomorrow isn't even a particularly substantial short story, coming in at less than thirty pages in this volume -- but there's a decent argument to be made for such a stand-alone publication of this tale. Doubled-up -- the New York Review Books edition includes both the original French text as well as Lydia Davis' translation -- and with an Introduction (by Peter Brooks) that's not much shorter than the story itself, this isn't a padded volume: each part serves its purpose and supports the others. Brooks introduces both the interesting author, as well as this, the only work of fiction he apparently wrote. And while Davis' translation nicely captures the tone and feel of the original, ready access to the French text should be welcome even by those with a limited grasp of the language.
       The story is a simple one, the unidentified narrator of No Tomorrow recalling the events of a night from his youth. He was twenty at the time -- "I was naive", he insists twice in the story's opening lines (and here's also why you want the French original at hand in reading: despite the French sound and feel of 'naïve', Denon in fact had his narrator write of his younger self: "j'étais ingénu"). He's been having an affair with a Comtesse, but there's been a bit of drama there. One night, while waiting for the Comtesse at the opera, a friend of hers, Madame de T—, makes her move and decides the he is hers for the evening -- and the night.
       The narrator isn't quite sure what he's getting himself into -- or, indeed, as the night progresses, what he's gotten himself into. They head to her husband's château -- complete with husband in residence, further confusing the narrator. He's clearly a pawn in some game of hers, but she and the circumstances are seductive enough that he doesn't try too hard to get to the bottom of things, going with the sensual flow instead ("I beg the reader to remember that I was twenty years old", he eventually feels the need to say again ...).
       It's confusing to him, but in a rather lovely way, the mysteries of life opening up for the young man in a setting that is both romantic and magical, with hidden chambers and all:

     All this was like an initiation rite. She led me by the hand across a small dark corridor. My heart was pounding as though I were a young proselyte being put to the test before the celebration of great mysteries ...
       The narrator is entirely a pawn in Madame de T—'s hands -- but in such hands he's only too happy to be a pawn. Even the reality that dawns on him the next morning -- rather abrupt and cool and even cruel -- can't diminish the pleasure of the adventure, even as it leaves him wondering about the moral of the whole experience (and finding none).
       No Tomorrow is a small, well-turned little treat, a very nice example of the French erotic tale, classically understated and yet effectively sensuous. Peter Brooks' Introduction arguably reveals too much already, but this is a morsel that one happily re- reads and considers, like any fond or satisfying memory -- the story isn't really spoiled by knowing what happens, since it's as much about the telling as the actual (limited) events. It is a tale of fleeting pleasure -- but much of its success comes in capturing how and what lingers of such youthful experiences. The narrator is a small piece in the much larger games of the adults around him -- the unseen Comtesse, as well as Madame de T— -- and he's schooled. But it is, of course, a night he can't forget. There may not be a moral to the story -- but then there doesn't always have to be.
       (Note also that No Tomorrow plays a central role in Milan Kundera's Slowness, in a wonderful example of a modern literary work in conversation with a classical one. Denon's novel is called one of the: "literary works that seem best to represent the art and the spirit of the 18th century" there, and it does indeed contrast nicely with contemporary times and art.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 January 2015

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No Tomorrow: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Dominique Vivant Denon (1747-1825) was part of Napoleon's campaign in Egypt and later made director-general of museums in Paris.

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