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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Ivory Pearl

Jean-Patrick Manchette

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To purchase Ivory Pearl

Title: Ivory Pearl
Author: Jean-Patrick Manchette
Genre: Novel
Written: (1996) (Eng. 2018)
Length: 190 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Ivory Pearl - US
Ivory Pearl - UK
Ivory Pearl - Canada
La Princesse du sang - Canada
La Princesse du sang - France
Blutprinzessin - Deutschland
Principessa di sangue - Italia
  • French title: La Princesse du sang
  • First published posthumously, in 1996, and in an expanded edition in 2005
  • Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith
  • With an Introduction by the author's son, Doug Headline
  • With an Afterword by Gary Indiana
  • With a: 'Brief Chronology of 1989-1995'

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Our Assessment:

B+ : incomplete, but satisfying package

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 5/3/2018 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "The included author notes suggest how it all might have ended. Noir fans won’t want to miss this one." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       Ivory Pearl was the novel Jean-Patrick Manchette was working on at the time of his death, the first in what was meant to be an ambitious series, but he was unable to complete it and it was first published, in its unfinished form, posthumously. This edition includes the text as far as it goes -- 150 basically complete pages -- and then 'The Rest of the Story' in very summary form ("taken from the author's working notes"), as well as a useful Introduction by Manchette's son, Doug Headline.
       So, readers aren't left entirely hanging: it's not like the story -- at least to the extent of 'what happens' -- comes to an abrupt halt. The writer's notes fill in what else happens, and, more or less, the outcome. Somewhat surprisingly, it doesn't actually feel quite so important to know what happens: instead, this is (again) a demonstration that what matters in a Manchette novel isn't so much what happens in toto but rather bit by bit, and how that is presented. Resolution isn't the end-all in Manchette's writing -- and presumably even less so here, with an eye towards future volumes; so also the book was supposed to end where:

A sort of epilogue will tell what's going to happen to the characters over the next thirty years, although a good many areas of obscurity will remain.
       So, despite being a thriller with a good deal of mystery -- about identities, motives, allegiances, aims -- the form the novel wound up taking -- half (close to) fully written, half summary-notes -- doesn't detract nearly as much from the enjoyment or success of the text as it would with a more traditional mystery or thriller.
       Ivory Pearl is set largely in 1956, and the major political events of the eventful year are significant backdrops: much of the action is set in Cuba, where the the Cuban Revolution gets into a higher gear with Castro's return in the fall; it was the year of the Hungarian Revolution -- and the Soviet invasion --; and the Algerian War was in full horrible swing.
       The title character is an orphan, originally named Marie Lenoir by the nuns who raised her, then nicknamed Ivory Pearl by the British soldiers who adopted her on their advances in 1944, and generally called by the shortened name 'Ivy'. After the end of the war, the fifteen-year-old girl meets Samuel Farakhan, and after some back and forth the two come to an agreement, Ivy allowing Samuel to act -- to the extent anyone could, with this independent-minded girl -- in loco parentis and getting her a proper education. The independently wealthy homosexual Samuel also gets something out of it: aside from the convenient cover of his sexual preference the occasional presence of an attractive young woman affords him, he has longterm plans for her, in support of his efforts in the shadowy world of secret services and spying.
       During the late stages of World War II Ivy had got her hands on a camera, and saw her future there:
She wanted to become a professional photographer. She dreamt of meeting Robert Capa. She had an alarming predilection for images of dead bodies.
       Fast forward a decade later, and she's accomplished her main goal, established as a successful photographer (and, yes, having met Robert Capa). By 1956 she's fed up with reportage and wants to take a year off. Which she then does, in the Sierra Maestra in Cuba. Exactly where Farakhan suggested .....
       The first chapter of the novel took place some six years earlier, a botched kidnapping (apparently), where the target was a seven-year-old girl named Alba Black, the daughter of the wealthy international arms trafficker Aaron Black. There's a shoot-out, and one of the men involved -- Victor Maurer -- escapes with the girl.
       When Ivy meets up with Sam for New Year's in 1956 -- an annual tradition -- she reports on the still open case, which Sam had asked her to look into (ostensibly for his lover, Lajos): Maurer and the girl disappeared, and their fates and whereabouts remain apparently unknown.
       Ivy enjoys her time away from it all in the Sierra Maestra -- but eventually encounters two others hiding there: a man and a wild young teen calling herself Negra. (Negra, Alba Black, Marie Lenoir: there's definitely a dark theme here, and Manchette sees no need for subtlety.) Ivy suspects who they might really be -- but then, she's supposed to. But others suspect Alba Black is still alive, too, and they very much want to finish the job that was left unfinished six years earlier. Especially before she can publicly and with great fanfare be reunited with her notorious father, who is expected in Havana in December .....
       Everyone has good reason to remain suspicious of everyone else, with a variety of motives and priorities (beginning with why anyone would want Alba dead ...) and shifting allegiances. Parties work together but can't always trust each other; bargains are made -- and lives are lost. Manchette is particularly good with his strong-willed, independent-minded characters, used to surviving in the most difficult circumstances on their own, and Maurer, Ivy, and Negra/Alba are a particularly impressive trio.
       It is a bit thin as a thriller -- in part because it's not fully fleshed-out in finished form, with even a few of the chapters in the (more or less) completed section under a page in length, a sometimes effective abruptness that nevertheless stands in contrast to the rest of the narrative, and which Manchette might have still wanted to add to. (That even the 'finished' chapters aren't completely done is also made clear from a few of the amusing editorial footnotes, pointing to obvious mistakes in the text which, readers are assured, Manchette would have caught before signing off on the book.) But chapter for chapter the tensions, conflicts, and suspense are nicely handled, and the story is consistently engaging -- and often exciting.
       The helpful Introduction explains how Manchette apparently felt he had done all he could in his previous novels, culminating with The Prone Gunman as the ultimate in: "a manner of writing stripped down to the bare essentials and devoid of any superfluous effects, in which the simple statement of fact replaced any psychological comment or explanation", and that he long felt uncertain of what he could do next in his writing (turning to, among other things, translation in the meantime ...). Ivory Pearl does continue in the same vein -- generally successfully, though occasionally the listing of facts does stand out too much as just that (though almost all his focus on details pays off at some point) -- but there is certainly a greater effort to place the narrative in the larger, global scheme of the unsettled world of that time, the conflicts in Cuba, Hungary, and Algeria all throwing dark shadows over the story -- even as they are not shown very directly touching it, with even Lajos' return to Hungary essentially treated off-scene.
       There may be a lot missing to Ivory Pearl, but it's a surprisingly satisfying read even as is, with the supplemental material certainly helping in that regard as well.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 April 2018

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Ivory Pearl: Reviews: Jean-Patrick Manchette: Other books by Jean-Patrick Manchette under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Jean-Patrick Manchette lived 1942 to 1995.

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© 2018-2023 the complete review

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