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the Complete Review
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Final Exam

Julio Cortázar

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To purchase Final Exam

Title: Final Exam
Author: Julio Cortázar
Genre: Novel
Written: (1950) (Eng. 2000)
Length: 239 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Final Exam - US
El examen - US
Final Exam - UK
Final Exam - Canada
Final Exam - India
L'Examen - France
L'esame - Italia
El examen - España
  • Translation of El examen
  • Translated by Alfred Mac Adam
  • Written in 1950, this novel was first published in Spanish in 1986
  • First English-language edition, 2000
  • Includes a brief Author's Note by Cortázar
  • Includes an introduction by Alfred Mac Adam
  • See also Cortázar's Diary of Andrés Fava

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting literary nightmare of intellectual life in 1950 Buenos Aires

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 31/1/2000 .
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Summer/2000 Gregory Howard
San Francisco Chronicle B 2/4/2000 Thomas Christensen

  From the Reviews:
  • "This fractured, impressionistic novel shows Cortazar's immense learning -- the narrative is full of literary references to writers from Poe to Andre Malraux -- but he had not yet mastered novelistic form." - Publishers Weekly

  • "In Final Exam, Cortázar, as he does in his best short work, walks a tight line between fantasy and reality. He ably blends the surreal, so often present in his short work, with the narrative experiments of many of his novels. The result is work of unremitting tension and boredom, of the sinister and the comic -- a difficult work, to be sure, but one which yields many pleasures. (...) For the most part nothing much happens in Final Exam, and this is part of the point. The novel is almost all atmosphere" - Gregory Howard, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "(D)ense, challenging, obscure, highly allusive and at times incoherent, and generally lacks the magic that characterizes the mature Cortazar. At the same time, it is an ambitious, innovative and revealing book (.....) Final Exam is an intriguing book for the patient reader with avant-garde sympathies, or for anyone who -- like most who know him -- loves Julio." - Thomas Christensen, San Francisco Chronicle

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:

       Final Exam is one of Julio Cortázar's earlier efforts, but one that could not immediately be published because of the political situation in Argentina at the time. (It was written in 1950; Cortázar moved to Paris the next year.) It was posthumously resurrected -- indeed, though an Author's Note by Cortázar is included, it was not published until 1986. The English-language edition inexplicably had to wait another decade and a half.
       In his Author's Note Cortázar explains:

I publish this old tale today because I irremediably enjoy its free language, its fable devoid of moralizing, its Buenos Aires melancholy, and also because the nightmare from which it was born is still awake and prowling the streets.
       Final Exam is a novel about the last night of a couple of students before their final exam. Juan and Clara are not intent on cramming. Instead they basically mill about the city (Buenos Aires), meeting friends, drinking, and sleeping. Accompanied by their friends Andrés, Stella, and one just referred to as the "chronicler" they engage in lots of literary, philosophical, and intellectual babble (most of which is fairly clever, though little is delved into in depth). Another estranged friend, Abel, follows them.
       They carry a cauliflower along with them, and they wander through a city shrouded in a fog (that probably isn't a real fog). Along with a huge crowd they visit a Sanctuary where a bone is on display -- scenes that friends of Cortázar saw as "a portent of the events that illuminated our annals during 1952 and 1953", when Eva Perón died and her corpse was similarly displayed and venerated.
       Much of the book consists of dialogue. There are also some experimental touches -- line breaks, asides, quotes, poems. The text is also highly allusive, with literary name-dropping (and quoting) galore. In his introduction Alfred Mac Adam insists:
Not to worry ! Cortázar's depiction of social disintegration and the vicissitudes of love are so powerful that a few enigmatic allusions will not prevent the reader from understanding the action. Leave the archaeological investigation for a second reading !
       In fact, the obscurity, like the odd fog hanging over this surreal Buenos Aires, add to the atmosphere. Cortázar captures these intellectual students and their friends very well, and it would strike a false note to portray them differently. (No doubt there are many autobiographical elements to the novel; it certainly feels fairly authentic.)
       The novel is both a political and a social commentary, and is also about youthful relationships. It presents an interesting picture of Buenos Aires life around 1950, done in Cortázar's creative and often exuberant style. There is little he is not willing to try in this small novel, and most of his efforts are at least of interest (though not always entirely successful).
       Translator Alfred Mac Adam warns of Cortázar's use of a "mixture of very vulgar Argentinian street Spanish with high-flown esthetic concepts" which is "virtually impossible to replicate in English." Nevertheless, Mac Adam seems to have done a solid job in his translation.
       A worthwhile though often challenging read, it should certainly be of interest to those familiar with Cortázar's later work.

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Final Exam: Reviews: Julio Cortázar: Other books by Julio Cortázar under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentinian author Julio Cortázar (1914-1984) was born in Brussels, and lived in France from 1951 onwards. He is the author of numerous acclaimed experimental works.

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