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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

L'Expérience interdite

Ook Chung

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To purchase L'Expérience interdite

Title: L'Expérience interdite
Author: Ook Chung
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003
Length: 175 pages
Original in: French
Availability: L'Expérience interdite - France
L'Expérience interdite - Canada
  • L'Expérience interdite has not been translated into English yet

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Our Assessment:

B : fun idea, but uneven

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Literature Today . 9/2004 Bettina L. Knapp

  From the Reviews:
  • "On one level, Ook Chung’s imaginings are reminiscent of the works of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Victor Hugo. On another, Ook Chung’s depictions, though scientifically sound, are gruesome and sadistic. Overtones of hopelessness pervade the atmosphere, particularly deleterious for creative individuals caught up in their fight for recognition." - Bettina L. Knapp, World Literature Today

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 basic idea behind L'Expérience interdite is certainly a good one: Bill Yeary builds a writers' colony of a very different sort on an island in the Philippines. Cut off from the world, kept in small cages (which are arranged underground in a pyramidical -- and thus also hierarchical -- structure) the would-be writers (many of whom didn't really plan on this line of work ...) find themselves in an environment that's more Dante's inferno than Yaddo. Yeary's inspiration is pearl farming: artificially stimulating production (by rather unpleasant means) to produce the occasional work of great beauty (and value). As he notes:

L'unique différence entre perles naturelles et perles cultivées, c'est une question de authorship (.....) Ce n'est pas une différance essentielle.

(The unique difference between natural and cultured pearls is a question of authorship (.....) It's not an essential difference.
       In Yeary's world literary production is not of the factory-assembly line sort, but rather of the farmed sort: sow, and then reap. The conditions don't sound conducive to creative work, but though obviously greatly exaggerated the idea isn't entirely far-fetched: the sensory deprivation, the absence of interfering outside stimuli and the possibility of any sort of experience from beyond the caged worlds the authors inhabit plausibly allow for the sort of pure artistic creation of romantic ideal. (Obviously, this fantastical set-up is completely unrealistic, but this plausible kernel on which it is built up is what makes it such fun.)
       As with pearl farming, a lot won't yield anything, but it's enough for a few to be successful -- and some of the highest quality. The awful conditions obviously get to many of the inhabitants of this world, but that's the price Yeary's willing to pay. As long as some find the proper inspiration -- and they do -- he's satisfied. And is able to cash in on the output.
       The four-part novel (plus epilogue) doesn't recount this experiment straightforwardly. It begins far afield, then offers examples of the victims Yeary finds: Deborah, for example, introduced to this hell and 'invited' to stay (as a caged acolyte). Only eventually is the history of Yeary's undertaking revealed -- how it came to him, how he managed to set it up.
       There's philosophising to go with it too, of course: the book is, after all, a Gedankenexperiment. It's not badly done -- if consistently bilious (and, yes, bile plays a role in Yeary's inspiration): isolated souls in the contemporary world, suffering as a fundamental human condition.
       The ambitious literary experimentation (layers of text and identity, jumps from the utterly surreal to the soundly realistic) make for a dense text that isn't entirely successful. But it is gripping, and for the most part entertaining enough. The take on literary production might appear terribly cynical, but it's a welcome change from the usual romanticising of the creative act. Certainly worthwhile.

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L'Expérience interdite: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Canadian author Ook Chung was born in Japan in 1963. He writes in French.

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