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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Universal Bureau of Copyrights

Bertrand Laverdure

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To purchase Universal Bureau of Copyrights

Title: Universal Bureau of Copyrights
Author: Bertrand Laverdure
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 141 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Universal Bureau of Copyrights - US
Universal Bureau of Copyrights - UK
Universal Bureau of Copyrights - Canada
Bureau universel des copyrights - Canada
Universal Bureau of Copyrights - India
Bureau universel des copyrights - France
  • French title: Bureau universel des copyrights
  • Translated by Oana Avasilichioaei

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Our Assessment:

B : odd but intriguing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 3/12/2014 J.C.Sutcliffe

  From the Reviews:
  • "This is a disorientating -- though not unrewarding -- book in which the reader is constantly trying to work out which way is up. (...) Laverdure’s clever commentary on identity, ownership and control keeps us guessing right up to the end." - J.C.Sutcliffe, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Universal Bureau of Copyrights is a surreal-poetic novel. The narrator moves between some real places -- Brussels and Canada -- but much of his journey is in the very unreal -- compounded by the fact that he finds himself drifting: "From delirium to delirium", blacking out repeatedly along the ways. Among the few recurring characters is 'Jokey Smurf', with his dependable red-ribbon-wrapped exploding box. The cartoon character fits with much of the action, which involves sequences that are far more dream- or cartoon-like than real -- the progressive loss of body-parts by the narrator, for one.
       How fictional is this world ? The narrator isn't entirely sure, only slowly seeming to understand that he's a player in it, and that he's being played.
       There's literal detachment (and not just of digits and limbs). There's a group of 'literary tourists' who appear:

For the first time, all the members of the gang, who haven't necessarily read the book but who have followed, with guide and road maps, our hero's adventures, show up on the scene.
       The narrator begins to understand -- or think he understands -- and come to terms with his situation:
Through careful consideration, I have calmly learned how to become a character. It demands constant application. I wasn't a character at the beginning of this book, but I have become one.
       The explanation behind much of this is already hinted at in the title, but the eponymous institution is only revealed and described deep into the story. It is an inspired idea:
To summarize, every word, every material, every object, every letter, every spark of life, every idea, every character, has their copyright.
       And the Universal Bureau of Copyrights controls these. Here, hence: "Nature and culture are no longer separate; they are merged". Which is a pretty mind-blowing concept -- as also reflected in the narrator's account, which suggests his mind repeatedly being blown. Informed that: "You have no ownership over what constitutes you" isn't what precipitated his existential crisis, but that knowledge certainly offers only limited comfort.
       Universal Bureau of Copyrights is a sort of science-fiction thought experiment, spun out in surrealest form. Just as the narrator has little to hold onto (especially given the repeated lost of limbs ...), so the reader is in many ways left at sea. Laverdure playfully pushes boundaries of inaccessibility -- the closing chapter is in Mandarin (though a translation is provided in the notes) -- and the novel's final word is a parenthetical "etc.", suggesting anything but closure.
       This sort of thing isn't everyone's kind of fun but, aside from an over-reliance on characters losing consciousness in one way or another (always a cheap way out), Laverdure shows a nice touch to his bizarre fictional world. He doesn't try to explain too much, which might frustrate those who prefer their science fiction more traditional, but the way he gives readers so much space to imagine for themselves works quite well -- especially with the creepy foundational institution of the titular Universal Bureau of Copyrights, suggesting as it does a lack of the possibility of free will not just for the characters presented in these pages but to the entire world beyond as well, including the reader.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 January 2015

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Universal Bureau of Copyrights: Reviews: Other books by Bertrand Laverdure under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Canadian author Bertrand Laverdure was born in 1967.

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