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the Complete Review
the complete review - anthology / lexicon

The Novelist's Lexicon

edited by
Villa Gillet/Le Monde

general information | review summaries | our review | links

To purchase The Novelist's Lexicon

Title: The Novelist's Lexicon
Author: many
Genre: Anthology
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 130 pages
Original in: various
Availability: The Novelist's Lexicon - US
The Novelist's Lexicon - UK
The Novelist's Lexicon - Canada
Lexique Nomade - Canada
Lexique Nomade - France
  • Writers on the Words that Define their Work
  • Originally published in French, as Lexique Nomade
  • With contributions by seventy-seven writers from the 2007 International Forum on the Novel
  • With a Foreword by Guy Walter
  • With a Preface by Robert Solé

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting variety from a great selection of authors

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Libération . 15/5/2008 Devarrieux Claire

  From the Reviews:
  • "Puisez parmi les meilleurs romanciers de plusieurs continents, réunissez-les fin mai à Lyon pour une semaine d'«Assises internationales du roman». Demandez-leur de commenter un mot ou une notion. Surtout n'agitez pas. Publiez les contributions selon l'arbitraire de l'ordre alphabétique. Le lecteur inventera à son gré la logique de l'ensemble. Ce petit livre de plumes associées, Lexique nomade, n'appelle aucune lecture univoque ou casanière." - Devarrieux Claire, Libération

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 International Forum on the Novel brings together authors at the Villa Gillet annually. At the 2007 event the participants:

were not asked to comment on their favorite word but on the word that best provides an introduction to their works.
       The result is this 'novelist's lexicon' (though it was more a nomadic word-book -- 'Lexique Nomade' -- in the original), with seventy-seven writers contributing. It's a most impressive list of contributors: those whose works are under review at the complete review alone include: David Albahari, Alaa El Aswany, A.S.Byatt, Upamanyu Chatterjee, Rafael Chirbes, Rachid El-Daïf, Esterházy Péter, Nurrudin Farah, Rodrigo Fresán, Hwang Sok-Yong, Arthur Japin, Fatos Kongoli, Pascal Mercier, David Peace, Lydie Salvayre, Peter Stamm, Adam Thirlwell, and Enrique Vila-Matas.
       The responses were originally written in a number of languages, which obviously leads to some complications regarding individual selections, and several have been left in the original -- echappée, for example. There are also invented words (James Flint's adjective, zorby) and a prefix (un-). And quite a few authors selected phrases, expressions, or even questions, ranging from the word 'word' to what is the novel ?
       David Peace -- plague -- sums up what several authors might well have been thinking:
To be honest or stupid or both, but not churlish or contrary (I hope), I am uncertain I understand the premise of this lexicon.
       The results are, if nothing else, extraordinarily varied; that's both the fun of this volume -- one entry is a simple evocation and explanation of a word, such as Etgar Keret on balagan (meaning 'total chaos' -- but with a positive subtext ...), the next entry something like Chloé Delaume's fantasy about The Banana Republic of Letters ("Monitored by Amnesty International for several years, the BRL is famous for its two national holidays", etc.) -- but also what's frustrating about it. Many of the selected words do provide an introduction (of sorts) to the works of the authors, though it's perhaps how they write about what they've selected (which often is not simply a singe word) that is more revealing -- which, ultimately, presumably proves equally useful.
       Upamanyu Chatterjee (Bildungsroman) on the frustrations of literary jet-setting (facing questions such as: "Why don't you write like R.K.Narayan. Why don't you write in Sanskrit. Why don't you go back to the Vedas. Why don't you write like Roberto Calasso.") or Nelly Arcan (who nails disappointment), Nicolas Fargues (who writes about being a novice), and David Albahari (predictable on silence) provide some of the very enjoyable and revealing pieces. Others focus more intently on a word (or phrase) itself; no one leaves the word to speak entirely for itself (though Ying Chen (phantom) does rely almost entirely on dictionary-type definitions), but two do give their responses in verse. Among the most creative efforts is Joseph O'Connor on love, as seen from far in the future and defined by short quotes from roughly our times ("What can happen in a time of cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez). All you need (The Beatles)." etc.).
       Seventy-seven smart and creative people, left pretty much to their own devices: it is the ultimate in mixed bags, but good fun to dip into. It is too loose and disparate a collection for any specific purpose -- certainly for providing a ready introduction to these authors' works -- but there are a lot of fine pieces and ideas here, some very cleverly presented. An odd little book -- of odds and ends, it can seem -- but enjoyable, and often thought- (and sometimes smile-)provoking.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 June 2010

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The Novelist's Lexicon: Reviews: International Forum on the Novel: Other books of interest under review:

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