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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Case Closed

Patrik Ouředník

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To purchase Case Closed

Title: Case Closed
Author: Patrik Ouředník
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 143 pages
Original in: Czech
Availability: Case Closed - US
Case Closed - UK
Case Closed - Canada
Case Closed - India
  • Czech title: Ad acta
  • Translated by Alex Zucker

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Our Assessment:

A- : ultimately a bit too loose, but very good fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 8/2/2010 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ouredník offers tantalizing clues in brief chapters and alternating points of view that are endlessly, and humorously, non-intersecting; but the chain of perhaps unrelated events amounts to a gleeful skewering of the Czech national character and a character-rich, dialogue-sassy send-up colored by a lingering Communist legacy." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       Case Closed jumps back and forth between a number of characters and storylines (with some overlap), moving quickly across forty short chapters. The first chapter is entirely in what appears to be chess notation -- and similarly there's a lot of quick back-and-forth repartee in the dialogue-heavy book. The novel is also full of games (including some more chess), clues, mysteries, and ambiguity.
       Case Closed is -- arguably -- ostensibly a mystery/thriller: some crimes are committed and investigated (arson, rape, a murder from forty years ago), and one of the central characters is a policeman, chief inspector Vilém Lebeda. But this very multilayered novel is also a humorous-critical look at the Czech character and nation over the past decades, into the post-Communist present -- as well as an entirely literary game.
       After the opening chapter, Case Closed seems (for a while, anyway) to proceed conventionally enough, introducing a variety of characters, dynamics, and events. There's old man Dyk, for one, sitting on his bench, a widower who has never been very close to his son and who happens to be distantly related to Lebeda -- and who, among other things, wrote a novel back in the midseventies which was published under a pen name and, while hardly successful, was not entirely forgotten.
       Case Closed is very much concerned with words and language, and Ouředník constantly slips in references to the difficulty of mutual understanding, whether in the form of illustrative dialogue (a police interview of a rape victim is an Abbott-and-Costello-routine-worthy example) to incidental mentions such as of the unsettling "linguistic alterity" of the language of the local Gypsies. Here even babies are disillusioned early on -- so Dyk's son:

If until this point Dyk Jr. had believed in the adequacy of articulated expression and the real essence of objects, he quickly got over it.
       There is a shift as the novel proceeds, and the literary game becomes more prominent; eventually, the author interrupts at greater length -- for example:
     Readers ! Does our story seem rambling ? Do you have the feeling that the plot is at a standstill ? That, generally speaking, not much is going on in the book you now hold in your hands ? Do not despair: Either the author's a fool or you are; the odds are even. Others have died and so shall we, we'll die, oy vey, alack, alas ! Who on earth knows how on earth it will turn out ! Sometimes a person gets tangled up in his own life without realizing it; and the same is true of characters in a novel.
       And, yes, eventually there are pronouncements such as:
Yes ! We are born into a novel whose meaning escapes us, and depart from a novel we have never once understood.
       Life in and as fiction, and philosophical quandaries (right down to the question: "Are we real ?"): Ouředník piles it on thick and fast. It works -- indeed, it's tremendously appealing -- because he shows such a light, deft touch. Case Closed is terribly playful, but not quite fatally so.
       It helps that translator Zucker has managed to keep all the sprightliness to the text, and manages some very good English wordplay, maintaining the spirit and tone of the work. So, for example:
There was a knock at the door. Dyk Jr. yawned, sat up, tossed off the blanket, shuddered with cold. Yes, some toss off blankets, others toss off verse; some people are wet blankets, others rain on parades; one person's knees knock with cold, another person knocks on doors. So it goes with words, my friends.
       Ouředník has a sharp wit (which only occasionally becomes too blunt in his defamation of the Czech character), and there are times when it almost seems a shame that Case Closed isn't a simpler, more conventional novel, stripped of its metafictional conceits. Still, it's fairly satisfying in both its conventional and metafictional aspects, and if the mix isn't always ideal it does work, for the most part.
       Clever and enjoyable, and certainly worthwhile.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 April 2010

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Case Closed: Reviews: Other books by Patrik Ouředník under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Czech author Patrik Ouředník was born in 1957 and emigrated to France in 1984.

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