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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Impersonal Adventure

Marcel Béalu

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To purchase The Impersonal Adventure

Title: The Impersonal Adventure
Author: Marcel Béalu
Genre: Novel
Written: 1954 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 126 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Impersonal Adventure - US
The Impersonal Adventure - UK
The Impersonal Adventure - Canada
L'aventure impersonnelle - Canada
L'aventure impersonnelle - France
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Wakefield Press
  • French title: L'aventure impersonnelle
  • Translated and with an Introduction and an Afterword by George MacLennan

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Our Assessment:

B : creative, atmospheric vision

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Impersonal Adventure is narrated by a man who, traveling on business to the city of A..., finds himself with some free time there and recalls some advice a friend once gave him, should he ever find himself there -- pointing him to part of the city and suggesting: "you'll find what you're looking for there". With time on his hands, he decides to check it out. The narrator is directed to an island-district of the city -- one which hardly sounds promising: "it's an abandoned district; it could even more accurately be described called condemned". Intrepidly, he nevertheless heads there.
       He checks in at the Hotel Providence, taking an assumed named -- Fidibus -- and, after some reflection, puts down his profession as: 'Representative'. The choices seem as much whims as the decision to come here at all but especially the decision to appear as 'representative' is apposite -- not least when one of those he engages with spells out to him:

Represent, representative, represent the representative. All your previous ideas need to be revised, Fidibus. It isn't the past or the future, the professor or the night watchman that you're tasked with re-pre-sent-ing. It's yourself. What differentiates you, what no one will be unless it's you, won't undertake unless you yourself take it in hand.
       Taking it in hand proves difficult, as reality itself seems to shift here: whatever things are, they do not remain what they seem. Previous ideas -- and explanations -- need to be repeatedly revised as the very essence of the place and what fills it alter. Not least is the very foundations of the place, and the ultimately all-encompassing seeming Ogyges-enterprise: once a hub of buying and selling, the island at one point was made up entirely of department stores. Business transactions -- "trading, buying, selling" -- flourished, while actual production of goods floundered -- and it's a vicious circle they see coming round again, as: "when everyone goes back to working with their hands, the produce of this labor will rapidly exceed needs once more".
       The places of the island reflect this cycle, from the labyrinthine, overstuffed 'Little Curio Shop', to places entirely devoid of people as well as those packed so tightly the narrator can barely move. And nothing seems in a fixed state:
In a few minutes, the room that reflected the cozy wellbeing of secure and luxurious lives has acquired the look of places that have been long abandoned.
       There are crowds and much heated debate, Béalu nicely capturing the outsider's sense of impotence -- "I have no voice; my mouth opens and shuts pathetically. In whose name would I speak, in the name of what ?" -- and neatly contrasting it with the sure speaker:
On the platform the professor succeeds the orator who spoke first. I learn the secret of his power from what I hear of his speech: it doesn't bring any words to the crowd; he is its words.
       The Impersonal Adventure is a fantastical tale, Fidibus playing uncertainly in his assumed role in this curious world which he can not get an easy or firm grip on, it always slipping away from right in front of him, much like Corinne, the woman that he becomes obsessed by. Even what seems clear often is not -- a mannequin who is, in fact, a person -- and reality continuously shifts -- right until:
The fabulous illusion that carried my delirious brain to the height of derangement collapses.
       With its often bordering on the surreal happenings, The Impersonal Adventure does not offer easy answers. The friend's claim that Fidibus will find what he's looking for on the island may be true, but certainly not in the way Fidibus or the reader likely initially hoped for: it's not some tangible thing.
       If the deliberate vagueness of meaning (and meaningfulness) can be frustrating, there's certainly quite a bit of very fine imagery and writing in this atmospheric little novel, such as:
Trying to push my way toward her I'm once more stuck fast in the shifting swamp like a knife blade in flesh.
       And, repeatedly, Béalu sets his scenes exceptionally well, as when: "All around me nothing more rises with the darkness save the silence of definitive abandonment".
       It's a curious little adventure -- and not entirely impersonal, with Béalu neatly contrasting the characters' passions (much, and many, are very heated) with the dark, forsaken backdrop of the place.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 October 2022

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The Impersonal Adventure: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Marcel Béalu lived 1908 to 1993.

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© 2022 the complete review

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