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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Jean-Philippe Toussaint

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To purchase Reticence

Title: Reticence
Author: Jean-Philippe Toussaint
Genre: Novel
Written: 1991 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 128 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Reticence - US
Reticence - UK
Reticence - Canada
La réticence - Canada
Reticence - India
La réticence - France
Der Köder - Deutschland
  • French title: La réticence
  • Translated by John Lambert

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Our Assessment:

B+ : atmospheric -- and effective tension (without climax ...)

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . 3/3/1994 Markus Langer
Frankfurter Rundschau . 23/10/1993 Thomas Feibel
Die Zeit . 4/3/1994 Reinhard Baumgart

  From the Reviews:
  • "Nun stellt der vierte Roman Toussaints, krampfhaft kunstvoll geschrieben und konstruiert, unser Staunen, ja unsere Geduld auf eine harte, eine trockene Probe. (...) Nun wissen wir also, daß es auch möglich ist, einen Post Noveau roman zusammenzubasteln. Erfahren haben wir auch, daß ein Kriminalroman ohne Verbrechen, Aufklärungsinteresse und Spannung, wenn auch ausgestattet mit allem Brimborium der Gattung, methodisch ins Leere läuft. Wer Spaß hat an solchen Spielen mit vorhersehbarem Verlauf und Ausgang, der wird von Toussaint sorgfältig bedient." - Reinhard Baumgart, 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:

       Reticence isn't so much noir as foggy gray. This is a novel full of shadows and outlines, dim light and darkness, with little that is clear or distinct: the narrator walks around in a perpetual state of a kind of uncertainty. Of course, he's the narrator -- i.e. he's presenting this unreliability --, so .....
       Typically, even a simple puddle reminds of the distortions of reality:

It had rained a lot the night before, and nearby on the ground a large puddle of water dimly reflected the trees and rooftops of the neighboring houses in the darkness. A light gust of wind occasionally sent a ripple over the surface of the water, blurring the reflections for a moment. Then, slowly, the image recomposed on the surface, trembling for another few seconds before stabilizing, and I saw that the center of the puddle mirrored the silvery shape of the old gray Mercedes, around which, however, by I don't know what play of perspectives or blind spots, there was no trace of me at all.
       Reticence is a novel of such odd tricks of perception -- "walking past the large wooden mirror in the entrance, I saw a furtive silhouette pass by in the blackness" -- which keep the narrator off balance. And/or which he employs to keep the reader off balance .....
       The narrator is thirty-three years old -- meaning he has reached the point that's, he says: "yes, the end of adolescence" -- and he has traveled to the resort of Sasuelo with his infant son. It's October, with: "the tourist season drawing to a close". One reason for his coming was to visit the Biaggis, who have a house here -- but once he gets to Sasuelo he can't quite bring himself to make his presence known to them. He feels an initial and then lasting reticence -- "which, far from having abated with time, had only grown as the days went by" -- and repeatedly fails to connect with them.
       Not that he doesn't make some efforts -- of sorts. This is also a novel of furtive comings and goings in the shadows and the dark. Creepily, the narrator does visit the Biaggis' house several times -- even going inside, and taking their mail. Increasingly, he feels himself playing a sort of cat-and-mouse game -- remaining uncertain, all the while whether he is cat or mouse. He believes he's being followed and watched, possibly by Biaggi himself (whom he also suspects of having taken a room in his hotel, explaining why he isn't in his house), though he also goes sneaking around all over the place.
       The novel begins sinisterly with the image of a dead black cat floating in the harbor, an image the narrator repeatedly returns to and tries to explain. The dead cat has a decomposed fish head in its mouth, too: it was successful in its chase, but catching its prey killed it, a lesson the narrator does not spell out but one that perhaps is lodged in his mind as he is careful in just how far to go with his own investigations.
       Reticence is almost all atmosphere, the introspective narrator in constant danger of losing himself in murkiness -- both the physical murk around him, and that of his own thoughts. Even all his interactions with others are awkward or very much in passing, with practically nothing of the give and take of even perfunctory conversation. His child -- incredibly well-behaved, and often left alone for long stretches -- is still too young to communicate (or communicate with) effectively, and the narrator's ambitions to reach out -- to announce himself and visit the Biaggis, for example -- are thwarted by an overwhelming reticence that also feeds off a kind of paranoia. For almost the duration he truly is lost only in and with his own thoughts.
       If not anti-climactic, Reticence is certainly unclimactic. Toussaint's novels often feature protagonists treading water in this way, unable to act decisively; his narrator here is a man of some action, but limited follow-through, losing himself in the shadows -- his own, and the one he sees all around him. Tension-filled, Reticence keeps the reader on a certain edge; left there even at the novel's conclusion, the book might seem to have failed to fulfill some promise -- the danger of relying on genre tropes and atmosphere without providing a genre resolution. But even through all the fog much of it remains quite compelling.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 March 2012

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Reticence: Reviews: Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Other books by Jean-Philippe Toussaint under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Jean-Philippe Toussaint was born in Brussels in 1957.

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