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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Long Way Off

Pascal Garnier

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To purchase A Long Way Off

Title: A Long Way Off
Author: Pascal Garnier
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 124 pages
Original in: French
Availability: A Long Way Off - US
A Long Way Off - UK
A Long Way Off - Canada
Le grand loin - Canada
Le grand loin - France
  • French title: Le grand loin
  • Translated by Emily Boyce

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely, horribly twisted tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Devoir . 3/4/2010 Guylaine Massoutre
Le Monde . 28/1/2010 Xavier Houssin
The NY Times Book Rev. . 22/3/2020 David Gordon
L'Obs A 2/2/2010 Christophe Dupuis
TLS . 12/6/2020 Natasha Cooper

  From the Reviews:
  • "Le Grand Loin, texte attachant, est joliment écrit. (...) Tel un livre d'enfants, ce roman dialogué reflète l'innocence. Mais sa transparence se brouille et la logique lâche prise et dérape." - Guylaine Massoutre, Le Devoir

  • "Flanqués d'un vieux matou, le père et la fille s'embarquent dans d'étranges retrouvailles au long d'une aventure qui se déglingue un peu plus de page en page. On ne se méfie jamais assez de ceux qu'on croit connaître." - Xavier Houssin, Le Monde

  • "Boyce's lucid translation of this, his final book, feels true to that bleakly lyric vision (...) More absurdist than existentialist, this is a book in which a character can reasonably reflect: “Sooner or later, a Zoltan always makes his way into your life, just when you’ve made up your mind to have your finger amputated by your daughter.”" - David Gordon, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Pascal Garnier a le don de dépeindre ses personnages (il excelle d'ailleurs en peinture) et le road-movie de ces deux êtres cabossés par la vie est, une fois de plus, excellent. Brillant par le style, les petites réflexions (...), en dehors des chemins battus, Pascal Garnier poursuit son œuvre inclassable et poétique. C'est une des grandes pointures de la littérature contemporaine." - Christophe Dupuis, L'Obs

  • "These two late novels by Pascal Garnier offer no such restoration of order, or any sense that redemption might be either available or desirable. Instead the characters live in a welter of self-disgust, abiding by no rules and wallowing in self-pity. They are happy to drop anyone and anything that does not feed their insatiable need for self-punishment. People die and the police are somewhere in the background attempting an investigation, but the reader is not troubled by any of that." - Natasha Cooper, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Marc is a fairly unassuming guy, the kind of person that doesn't make waves and indeed is generally probably barely even noticed. Typically:

Marc had always been fond of grey: it was the perfect compromise between black and white and its variations were endless.
       He had been married for seventeen years, to Édith, and they had had daughter, Anne, but he and Édith had divorced twenty years earlier; now he lives with Chloé, who had:
picked him up after his divorce. She had stripped him down, polished him up and found a cosy place for him in her home.
       Chloé isn't very demanding, and quite accommodating. Marc knows he has a good thing going, and on the whole he seems pretty satisfied. Or thinks he should be .....
       It turns out, however, that Marc is impulsive. The novel opens with him blurting out: "I know Agen, too !" at a dinner, a contribution to the conversation -- practically his only one -- that was awkward rather than informative. Then he bails on a friend at lunch, and then, at the spur of a moment, buys a cat at a pet store -- an old, fat one at that. As usual, Chloé is understanding -- "it's just ... a bit surprising" --, and they eventually name it Boudu.
       Marc doesn't see much of his thirty-six-year-old daughter; in fact, he only visits her once a year, on her birthday. Visits, because she is a patient at Perray-Vaucluse Hospital; even non-French readers quickly understand that this is a psychiatric institution. Impulsively, he decides to make an unexpected visit; impulsively, when he next goes, on her birthday, he invites her on a trip to the coast -- and then to continue on, including to Agen. With Boudu.
       Pretty early on on this father-daughter(-and-cat) outing Marc does realize that maybe the road he started down is not a promising one:
Marc found himself irresistibly drawn towards the door. It was as if an invisible hand were pushing him while a voice whispered 'Get out ! Run while you can ! Leave, get in your car and keep driving, don't stop.
       Alas, Marc does not follow his instincts; instead, he lumbers along with Anne -- who is at least decisive, and knows what she wants: "Anne was a woman of action, but she acted first and thought about it afterwards, if she thought about it at all". And, as Marc (too) slowly comes to realize -- or is forced to -- Anne is a psychopath. She plays semi-innocent, and Marc doesn't really want to know, but, yes, bad things seem to keep happening around her, especially to the men she encounters.
       A trophy that she brings Marc -- an African statuette, "a lucky charm with nails in it" -- proves, like most everything else they come across, cursed, with Marc injuring a finger on it -- an injury that gets progressively worse (in part because Marc makes some odd choices as to the kind of medical attention he seeks). But Marc can't help himself, prolonging his agonies, and the odd trip, not reaching out to Chloé to ask for her help (or even just let her know what he's up to). In short order they are pretty much down and out -- and Marc in (suspiciously) increasingly poorer physical shape -- yet Marc's acceptance of the situation he finds himself isn't so much one of resignation -- beyond the kind of resignation he's accepted all his life -- as it seems acknowledgment of the way things should be. He doesn't say as much, but he seems to feel he deserves to reach rock bottom. And he certainly is well on his way.
       A Long Way Off is yet another of Garnier's quickly sketched tales of a man getting on in years and wondering where life has led him, and then taking what amounts to desperate action to see if there isn't something he's missed, leading to a snowballing, in the general direction of the abyss. Marc is hapless, unable to comprehend how he could have fathered a child like Anne and watching in helpless horror as he lets her have her way. Anne wonders more directly about his paternity -- and their time together culminates in her putting things to the test, in the most shocking way imaginable.
       Until the end, Anne's misdeeds can only be inferred, from the near harmless first one -- involving Boudu -- to the string of men she goes through -- though admittedly it's impossible not to connect the obvious dots and see her as the one to blame, in case after case. Marc's blindness isn't so much willful as wishful, and it gives the story a neat pretty-surface-feel -- but the reader, too, senses the black maelstrom just below; it's what Garnier does particularly well. It's a quick succession -- and escalation -- that Garnier presents; but, yes, he manages to top himself just when you think things can't get more outrageous.
       If the conclusion feels a bit familiar and easy (after the shock has worn off ...), it's still striking and then poignant enough. Getting there, Garnier is, as usual, very good with his short chapter building blocks of story, scenes and events from these lives, presented in a few quick brushstrokes. The slow-building but inexorable sense of menace and concern is very good for quite some stretches here, if ultimately not as neat and seamlessly done as in some of his other work, but A Long Way Off is certainly yet another disturbingly enjoyable Garnier novel.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 March 2020

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A Long Way Off: Reviews: Other books by Pascal Garnier under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Pascal Garnier lived 1949 to 2010.

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© 2020-2021 the complete review

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