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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Bird in a Cage

Frédéric Dard

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To purchase Bird in a Cage

Title: Bird in a Cage
Author: Frédéric Dard
Genre: Novel
Written: 1961 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 123 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Bird in a Cage - US
Bird in a Cage - UK
Bird in a Cage - Canada
Bird in a Cage - India
Le monte-charge - Canada
Le monte-charge - France
Der Vogel im silbernen Käfig - Deutschland
  • French title: Le monte-charge
  • Translated by David Bellos
  • Le monte-charge was made into a film in 1962, directed by Marcel Bluwal
  • The 2024 film, Merry Christmas, directed by Sriram Raghavan and starring Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi is also based on the novel

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Our Assessment:

B+ : very nicely served up noir

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 31/7/2016 Laura Wilson
The National . 31/5/2016 Malcolm Forbes
Wall St. Journal . 10/10/2016 Tobias Grey

  From the Reviews:
  • "Melancholy and atmospheric, with a plot twist worthy of Agatha Christie at her devious best, this brief tale has the hallmark of classic French noir." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "Dard ratchets up the tension (...), stokes suspicion (...) and plays an ingenious smoke-and-mirrors guessing game, a combination of whodunit and howdunit. (...) Throughout the proceedings, Dard creates an atmosphere that both seduces (...) and stuns (.....) (T)his short, sly novel of the night has more than enough substance and mystery to keep readers awake and engrossed." - Malcolm Forbes, The National

  • "(T)he Cain-esque Bird in a Cage, a typically tense and yearning tale (.....) Dard is a consummate hoodwinker: As you read along, there are apparent incongruities of plot and characterization. But like the waiter who magically whips the tablecloth from beneath a heavily laden table without disturbing any cutlery, all things are left accounted for." - Tobias Grey, Wall Street Journal

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:

       Bird in a Cage is narrated by Albert Herbin, and begins with his return to Paris on Christmas Eve, after six years away. The reason for his absence isn't actually spelled out until well into the story, but it's pretty clear from the beginning: he was in prison. He returns to his mother's flat, but his mother isn't there any longer; she died four years earlier. And the woman who was apparently his great love, Anna, is long gone too.
       Albert heads out into the festive night. He buys a Christmas ornament -- a colorful bird in a silver birdcage ... -- then treats himself to a dinner at the (relatively) fancy local restaurant he remembered from his childhood. And there he encounters a woman dining with her young child -- a woman who resembles Anna.
       One thing leads to another, and Albert winds up helping the woman bring her exhausted daughter home. She invites him in, and he finds himself riding up in the steel cage of the freight elevator in the darkness ..... Yes, it's a bit heavy-handed -- he's already carrying the Christmas ornament-cage in his pocket, after all -- but Dard knows how to set his scenes.
       Following her to the apartment, on the one hand it's bliss ... and yet:

     Why was I so stressed ? What could be more reassuring than this young mother and her sleeping daughter ? What more relaxing or soothing image could I hope for ?
       Readers can guess the answers: pretty much anything. Albert doesn't know what he's walking into .....
       They share their stories -- without even sharing their names --, Albert admitting that things were looking good for him seven years ago, after he had gotten his engineering degree, and a good job, but that: "a great misfortune befell me".
     "What kind of misfortune ?"
     "I fell in love."
       Now, some seven years later, he's going for two-for-two, already besotted by this woman. Adding to his hopes, she reveals that while she is married, the circumstances are unhappy ones too, and she is clearly looking for an escape.
       As it turns out, she has already planned her escape -- and, as Albert eventually reluctantly has to admit, she's using him as part of her plan. Yet he can't leave be -- and he can't leave (or at least doesn't go far enough away) when she pushes him away. He wants to ensure that everything works out well for her -- not realizing that by continuing to meddle he's complicating what turns out to have been a very well-planned plot. (So well-planned that when Albert proves unsuitable for the role she had planned for him she just goes out and -- in impressive fashion -- finds someone else.)
       Several of the chapters are titled counting up Albert's visits to her home, right up to 'The Fourth Visit'. Since these all take place over the course of a single night one would be correct in thinking that Albert is over-doing it; indeed, his repeated returns to the scene of what does indeed prove to be a crime only make matters worse for her -- and then, especially, him.
       The crime itself is ingeniously staged -- albeit perhaps a bit too ingeniously (readers certainly are unlikely to have guessed what exactly was going on until the woman spells it out exactly), a bit too elaborately hokey -- and even better is the fatal flaw that is Albert's undoing, proving once again that adage about best laid plans.
       A short, fast nicely melancholy-tinged noir, Bird in a Cage is really very good, a fine specimen of the dark French noir that holds its own in the company of works by writers such as Simenon (his romans durs), Boileau-Narcejac, or, more recently, Pascal Garnier.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 May 2016

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Bird in a Cage: Reviews: Le monte-charge - the film: Merry Christmas - the film: Frédéric Dard: Other books by Frédéric Dard under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Frédéric Dard (1921-2000) is best known for his 'San-Antonio' novels.

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