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the Complete Review
the complete review - biography

The Address Book

Sophie Calle

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To purchase The Address Book

Title: The Address Book
Author: Sophie Calle
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (1983) (Eng. 2012)
Length: 104 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Address Book - US
The Address Book - UK
The Address Book - Canada
Le carnet d'adresses - Canada
The Address Book - India
Le carnet d'adresses - France
Das Adressbuch - Deutschland
  • Originally published in Libération, 2 August to 4 September 1983, as 'L'homme au carnet'
  • French title: Le carnet d'adresses
  • Translated by Pauline Baggio
  • With numerous photographs

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Our Assessment:

B : attractive volume; interesting if limited experiment

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 9-11/2012 Heidi Julavits
The LA Times . 20/11/2012 David L. Ulin

  From the Reviews:
  • "The interviewees reveal as much about their own lives as they do about Pierre's. (...) And as the book progresses, Calle becomes the true main character: We start to wonder about her more than we do about Pierre. (...) (S)he is an intriguing protagonist, a seemingly heartbroken woman, struggling to find lost love." - Heidi Julavits, Bookforum

  • "Although in the wake of its initial French publication Calle agreed not to reissue The Address Book during Pierre’s lifetime, the book feels strikingly contemporary, with its sense of a life constructed out of pieces, interpreted at a distance, through a variety of poses, or façades. Pierre is both not real to us and utterly real to us -- a compendium of anecdotes, of images, that provoke our fantasies, even as we confront the violation (of privacy, of discretion) at the project’s heart." - David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

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 Address Book documents Sophie Calle's notorious experiment, first published in the French newspaper Libération in 1983: having found an address book in the street she photocopied the contents before returning it, and then contacted people in it to try to form an image of the owner -- discovering: "who he is without ever meeting him". (Identified only as 'Pierre D.', the owner of the address book was Pierre Baudry -- who did not take kindly to what she did.)
       The short encounters yield a variety of information about 'Pierre D.', but it is the encounters themselves, and the different ways in which the people open up (or turn her away) that are also of interest, as people react in a variety of ways to Calle's undertaking. She, too, seems to be a bit apprehensive about what she is doing -- writing of her: "Fear of the first contact", for example, or, when reproached by one person she contacts, finding: "Suddenly, I am afraid of what I am doing. Pangs of conscience.". She prowls around his neighborhood, too, but is less nosy investigator than interested in seeing where happenstance will lead her. At one point she heads out to a cemetery, looking up a grave that's listed in the address book -- and finding just a tomb with an illegible inscription and a wreath of plastic flowers; "The grave has remained silent", she sums up.
       Surprisingly many of the people she contacts don't know 'Pierre D.' very well, but slowly she can put a picture of him together. Photographs, often not obviously connected, complement the text; several are quite impressive, others amusing (including a TV shot of: 'The kid and Pierre's arm').
       With no supporting material, The Address Book stands on its own, a fascinating but limited little document. The story around it may be fairly well known, but it might have been helpful to include that information -- especially the fallout, of Pierre Baudry's reaction and threatened legal action.
       Attractively packaged -- like an address book -- in the new siglio edition, The Address Book is an appealing curiosity.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 March 2013

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The Address Book: Reviews: Sophie Calle: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French artist Sophie Calle was born in 1953.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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