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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Willem Elsschot

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To purchase Cheese

Title: Cheese
Author: Willem Elsschot
Genre: Novel
Written: 1933 (Eng. 2002)
Length: 142 pages
Original in: Flemish
Availability: Cheese - US
Cheese - UK
Cheese - Canada
Cheese - India
Fromage - France
Käse - Deutschland
Formaggio olandese - Italia
  • Flemish title: Kaas
  • Translated and with a Preface by Paul Vincent
  • Kaas has been filmed several times, including a version directed by Orlow Seunke in 1999

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Our Assessment:

B+ : enjoyable small tale of a clerk's foray into the business world

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 14/3/2017 Nicholas Lezard
The NY Times Book Rev. . 25/8/2002 Mary Elizabeth Williams
Publishers Weekly . 25/2/2002 .
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/2002 Susan Smith Nash
TLS . 26/4/1934 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Cheese could be taken as a parable of Marxist alienation (..); or you could notice the dates mentioned and make a connection between Hitlerís appointment as chancellor and Laarmanís journey into the land of cheese-based fantasy (...). Or you could read it simply as a funny satire on the business world. (...) It reads, in Sander Bergís translation, limpidly enough, and you get the impression that all the humour in the original has been safely transmitted; but there are quirks in the story" - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "(A) surprisingly humane farce of ambition gone haywire and Edam gone bad. (...) Elsschot (...) writes with the brisk efficiency and softhearted cynicism of a man who knows the indignities of office life from the inside. (...) (B)oth absurdly funny and bitterly sad." - Mary Elizabeth Williams, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The book's poker-faced humor falls a bit flat in translation, though Laarmans's ordeal makes for nail-biting reading, and Elsschot's class commentary is astute." - Publishers Weekly

  • "(A)n often hilarious saga of a newly minted entrepreneur whose deadpan grandiosity is juxtaposed with an absolute absence of self-awareness.(...) It is a satisfying read, with deft humor and technique." - Susan Smith Nash, Review of Contemporary Fiction

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:

       Frans Laarmans is the clerk that narrates Cheese. He works for the general Marine and Shipbuilding Company and, "getting on for fifty", long reached as high a position (and wage) as he can expect there; in fact he's expecting the gradual decline in his pay that is the norm at the company once an employee like him has made it this far. An opportunity arises after the death of his mother, however, and he is offered the job of official representative for Belgium (and Luxembourg) for a large Dutch cheese-manufacturer.
       Playing it safe, Laarmans doesn't quit his old job, getting a medical certificate that lets him stay away from work for a couple of months. Meanwhile he's set up with a twenty-ton shipment of full-fat Edam, and he's in business.
       Laarmans has some ideas about how business works, but little practical sense. He spends most of his time worrying about naming his company and setting up his office, rather than actually selling any cheese. He eventually appoints thirty agents throughout the country to sell his product, but isn't very good at picking the appropriate people (and, as it turns out, isn't aware of the rare occasions he does).
       Cheese isn't a broad comedy of errors, but rather a gentle, humorous story of small-time ambition faced with too grand an opportunity. Laarmans is in way over his head, and he bumbles along, his heart not really in the whole hard-sell concept.
       Cheese is amusingly related, and Laarmans a good narrator, slightly overwhelmed by everything he faces (and pretty consistently making if not the wrong, so at least very poor choices). The business world defeats him from the first, but he's always willing to give it (and everything) a try.
       A decent satire of the business world (general enough to ring true even today), Cheese also isn't that ambitious, but the pleasure is to be found in the tone, the nicely set scenes (domestic and professional), and the constant small failures Laarmans endures.

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Cheese: Reviews: Kaas - the film: Other books by Willem Elsschot under review: Willem Elsschot: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Flemish author Willem Elsschot (actually: Alfons Josef de Ridder) lived 1882 to 1960 and wrote eleven short novels.

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