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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

C'est la Vie

Pascal Garnier

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To purchase C'est la Vie

Title: C'est la Vie
Author: Pascal Garnier
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 115 pages
Original in: French
Availability: C'est la Vie - US
C'est la Vie - UK
C'est la Vie - Canada
Nul n'est à l'abri du succès - Canada
Nul n'est à l'abri du succès - France
  • French title: Nul n'est à l'abri du succès
  • Translated by Jane Aitken

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a bit slight, but nicely off-balancing in its twists and turns

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Rev. of Books . 9/4/2020 John Banville
Le Temps . 7/2/2001 Gérard Meudal
TLS . 12/6/2020 Natasha Cooper
Wall St. Journal . 27/9/2019 Tom Nolan

  From the Reviews:
  • "Une analyse subtile des rapports humains, qui sont, plus que l'intrigue, l'enjeu de cette histoire." - Gérard Meudal, Le Temps

  • "No one emerges from these novels with any credit except for the beautiful, tender, dutiful women whose kindness causes their dreadful husbands to abandon them for journeys of misery and destruction. If it were not for the lighthearted tone and inky-black humour they would be unbearable." - Natasha Cooper, Times Literary Supplement

  • "C'est la Vie (as translated from the French by Jane Aitken) plays out like a dream that shifts back and forth between nightmare and farce. The book amounts to a jeu d'esprit of hard-boiled symbolism, with echoes of Raymond Chandler, T.S. Eliot and the Marx Brothers. For maximum enjoyment, check your rational side at the ticket booth and hang on for the ride." - Tom Nolan, 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:

       C'est la Vie is narrated by Jean-François Colombier, known to his friends as Jeff. Something of a sad sack at age fifty, he drinks too much, has been through two divorces, and barely knows his grown son (a musician cum drug dealer). He holds out little hope for any sort of happy relationship in his future -- or for much of a future at all; when the novel opens, he's down and pretty close to out, with the bank balance to prove it. But that, and everything else in this world is just the way it is; "c'est la vie", as several of the characters observe.
       The title of the French original is actually not C'est la Vie; it is: Nul n'est à l'abri du succès -- 'No one is safe from success' -- and that is, indeed, what Jeff learns in this novel. He is an author, and suddenly finds his new book winning an important literary prize, leading to a TV appearance he forgets about until close to the last minute (so that his preparations included only getting completely smashed the evening before, and then trying to give himself a haircut with nail scissors, with predictable results). He's practically incoherent on stage, but, as he's assured:

     Yes, yes, you were very good ! We couldn't quite understand what you were saying, but everyone will put that down to the emotion of the moment. It's good to show emotion, especially for your female readership.
       Suddenly, Jeff finds himself successful. As surprised as anyone, he realizes:
     I was suddenly rich and famous. From that point on, I would have no right to complain.
       Not only is he suddenly basically set for life, he soon meets a dream woman, Eve, half his age -- and someone who is not even put off by the laughable and very poor second impression he makes. They seem an unlikely pair but they find themselves deeply and happily in love.
       It's all too good to be true -- or at least so Jeff thinks. He can't think otherwise. His life has puttered along fairly miserably for some fifty years -- and suddenly everything is coming up roses ? It's not only too good to be true, it's outright preposterous; so used to the fatalistic shrug of 'c'est la vie' after every latest disappointment, Jeff has difficulty wrapping his head around his new found happiness.
       So, of course, he makes a run for it -- "scarpering like a kid of fifteen" --, leaving a laconic note behind for Eve and hightailing it out of domestic comfort and bliss.
       Where does he turn ? Back to the abyss -- or at least what little of his past is still out there, dropping in on son Damien in Paris, hoping to hang out with him for a while (after not really making their relationship a closer one after his new-found success, besides sending his son a monthly cheque). That step might not be so bad, but then deciding to join Damien on a run down to Lille is already a poorer decision -- as Jeff perhaps begins to realize when the car they're taking strikes him as awfully familiar ..... The fact that Damien is obviously on his way to deliver some drugs doesn't help either.
       At a rest stop, Jeff is accosted by a diminutive "barrister and thalidomide victim", Billot, who gives him his business card. Unsurprisingly, Jeff finds himself out of place in the house Damien brings him to -- "Insouciant youth jiggled about in front of me" -- but getting away from it just worsens Jeff's situation. After a decent dinner, things go familiarly south; lost and with almost no cash left, Jeff turns to the only person he can think of to help him out of this silly little jam, Maître Billot. Who welcomes him and seems to offer the promise of setting everything right.
       Yeah, right.
       Jeff's situation proves increasingly hopeless, with every new and unexpected turn -- this novel offers plenty of surprises, for both him and the reader -- and the only open question seems to be not so much what will happen to Jeff -- he doesn't stand a chance, does he ? -- but how will it/he come to that end.
       But C'est la Vie doesn't stop with the surprises. If not exactly upbeat in its conclusion, Garnier amazingly doesn't opt for the dark pit of despair that is his usual stamping ground; yes, C'est la Vie is decidedly fatalistic in outlook, and Jeff must accept what he has coming -- but life sometimes surprises, and even happiness and success can be chanced upon and embraced, however wistfully. That's life, after all.
       A slim novel that's occasionally rushed, C'est la Vie feels a bit like Garnier was scared of making it more substantial, certain that he does dark better than any flashes of light; it's too bad, a bit more balance would have been fine -- Garnier is a very good writer, and he shows he can handle all the situations and dialogue; he (or rather the novel, padded out a bit) would have been just fine. But even as is, this is a fine and most enjoyable little novel, a very good quick read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 August 2019

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C'est la Vie: Reviews: Other books by Pascal Garnier under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Pascal Garnier lived 1949 to 2010.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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