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the Complete Review
the complete review - comic


Exquisite Corpse

Pénélope Bagieu

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To purchase Exquisite Corpse

Title: Exquisite Corpse
Author: Pénélope Bagieu
Genre: Graphic novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 124 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Exquisite Corpse - US
Exquisite Corpse - UK
Exquisite Corpse - Canada
Cadavre exquis - Canada
Exquisite Corpse - India
Cadavre exquis - France
Eine erlesene Leiche - Deutschland
Un amore di cadavere - Italia
Cadáver exquisito - España
  • French title: Cadavre exquis
  • Translated by Alexis Siegel

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Our Assessment:

B : uneven pacing, but quite good fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Monde . 6/5/2010 Yves-Marie Labé
Publishers Weekly . 1/6/2015 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Avec ses rebondissements, ses détails et dialogues visant souvent juste, Cadavre exquis réussit à mettre à nu les petitesses du milieu littéraire et à stigmatiser, en souriant, les ravages de l'ego. Masculin, surtout." - Yves-Marie Labé, Le Monde

  • "Though the ending comes out of left field, what comes before -- a funny and fresh exploration of authorship and a writer's relationship to fame -- is utterly charming." - 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:

       Exquisite Corpse is a literary comic, of sorts -- even if its main character, twenty-two year old Zoe, is anything but bookish. In fact, she's apparently never set foot in a bookstore, and isn't much of a reader. (When she finally does venture into a bookstore, the clerk says not to worry -- and foists Albert Cohen's Belle du Seigneur on her; at least she dashes out with the book without paying for it.) Zoe works as a product rep at sales shows -- a dreary job nicely captured, costumes and customer come-ons and all, by Bagieu -- and hasn't even ever traveled beyond the Paris suburbs; she also has a gross and horrible boyfriend.. But a new world opens to her when she chances into the apartment, and then life, of a real-life writer, Thomas Rocher -- who can't believe that she (or anyone) hasn't heard of him (while Zoe is surprised to learn that what he does is even a real job ...).
       Rocher was a shooting star and bestselling author, but his career had begun to ebb a while back. Desperate for adulation, living for his reviews, he took the downturn in his career badly. When Zoe stumbles into his life, he is living as a recluse. They start a relationship -- but, to Zoe's disappointment, Rocher continues to be unwilling to even venture out of his apartment; he even always keeps the curtains closed -- and he won't explain himself.
       Zoe stumbles on one of Rocher's secrets one night, when she finds a woman in the kitchen with him at three in the morning. The woman is Agathe -- Rocher's editor and, it turns out, the wife he is now separated from. With Rocher, inspired by Zoe, working on a new book, and Agathe finding it very promising, she's back in the picture again -- at least as his editor.
       As it turns out, Rocher has been keeping an even bigger secret, which helps explain both his recent success and his extremely withdrawn lifestyle. Agathe is in on it -- it was her idea -- and Zoe has to go along with it. But Zoe has grander ambitions, and ultimately Rocher is sacrificed and hoisted by his own fame- and glory-seeking petard in an entertaining if not adequately developed final twist.
       Bagieu does make her two main characters a bit extreme -- Zoe is an uncultured naïf, Rocher a condescending egocentric (though very much in love) -- and the clash of cultures is a bit simplistic. Still, the few literary allusions are sly: Rocher hiding behind the name 'Emile Ajar' for his pizza delivery [cf.], or the pseudonym 'Ariane Solal' (combining the lovers' names from Belle du Seigneur ...). And while Rocher is too ridiculously needy -- in terms of critical and popular acclaim -- it makes for a reasonably amusing send-up of authors' egos.
       The somewhat muted colors of the panels can seem a bit drab, but are, of course, appropriate for much of the novel -- i.e. Zoe's drab life. (And the bright final panel does then show all the more convincingly how things have changed.) The fairly simple faces take some getting used to, but prove to be quite expressive; a drawing-style that can initially seem off-putting ultimately seems just fine.
       Exquisite Corpse doesn't quite play by the rules of the surrealists' game it takes its title from, and though the wordplay of the title also touches upon one of the story's twists, the not-quite-follow-through is representative of Bagieu's approach throughout. The novel jerks and jumps ahead unevenly, with much glossed over (like: what's the deal with Zoe's boyfriend ?). Zoe's relationship with Rocher is also not entirely plausible, but it's the too-quick final twist that really could have used more developing.
       Still, Exquisite Corpse is an amusing story, with some fun ideas (and commentary on literary pretensions).

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 October 2017

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Exquisite Corpse: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Pénélope Bagieu was born in 1982.

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© 2017 the complete review

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