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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Island of Point Nemo

Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès

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To purchase Island of Point Nemo

Title: Island of Point Nemo
Author: Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
Genre: Novel
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 397 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Island of Point Nemo - US
Island of Point Nemo - UK
Island of Point Nemo - Canada
L'Île du point Némo - Canada
L'Île du point Némo - France
  • French title: L'Île du point Némo
  • Translated by Hannah Chute

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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertainingly spiraling and twisted fiction

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Figaro . 18/9/2014 Patrick Grainville
L'Humanité . 9/10/2014 Muriel Steinmetz
L'Obs . 9/10/2014 Claire Julliard

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ce n'est pas un roman psychologique, autobiographique ou documentaire, c'est un Léviathan feuilletonesque et ahurissant à la croisée de Jules Verne, d'Alexandre Dumas, de Conan Doyle, d'Agatha Christie, de Herman Melville, de Daniel Defoe, sans oublier Les Mille et Une Nuits et tant d'autres... (...) Blas de Roblès est un baroque en zigzags auquel sa déontologie interdit le tracé orthogonal. (...) (C)e roman est un hymne au livre, aux mille arborescences de la fiction." - Patrick Grainville, Le Figaro

  • "L’humour est constant. Littérature populaire, conte de fées (il y a même une Belle au bois dormant !) ou conte philosophique, science-fiction, etc., sont mis à contribution. L’érudition semble perpétuelle, les centres d’intérêt sans fond : anatomie, géographie, sciences exactes, littérature bien sûr." - Muriel Steinmetz, L'Humanité

  • "C'est extravagant, touffu, délirant. (...) Son livre offre tant de pistes de lecture qu'on l'emporterait bien sur une île déserte, en oubliant derrière soi beaucoup de pauvres petites autofictions." - Claire Julliard, L'Obs

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:

       The title of this novel, Island of Point Nemo, should be a contradiction in terms: 'Point Nemo' is an actual (non-)place:

the pretty little name scientific types have given to the 'oceanic pole of inaccessibility,' the point in the ocean that is farthest from land.
       Indeed, at 2,688 kilometers from the nearest land, it is very, very far from anything or anyone. But since it is, by definition, not-land, there shouldn't be an island there. The geographic coördinates known as 'Point Nemo' are, however, the eventual destination of quite a crowd of characters in this novel.....
       Island of Point Nemo is a novel of story-telling, on several levels. Its nearly seventy chapters do not follow one specific storyline from beginning to end, but rather alternate between several different ones -- some of them very different, with only the slightest eventual overlap (and/or subtle inter-weaving). (There are also interstitial 'Last Telegrams of the Night', batches of ten compact, summary-(not-quite-)stories in the vein and style of Félix Fénéon's Novels in Three Lines.)
       Story-telling, at its most literal, plays a significant role in several of the storylines, notably in the accounts of the readers employed to read to factory workers, especially in the old-style Cuban cigar factories. Reading the classics, or improvising their own -- essentially 'fan fiction', based on the classics, and tailored to their audiences --, this was more than entertainment, and a work perk that was among the most important to the workers.
       One storyline focuses on: "Wang-li Wong, 'Monsieur Wang' as he makes everyone call him to keep all the natives from mangling his name", the: "Chinese manager of B@bil Books, an assembly plant for e-readers" in France, and the final push to get the new product-line ready and out, a timetable for the launch already set. Narratives form a vital piece of the undertaking, from the readers on the factory floor keeping the workers going with their tales to the promise of 'A Whole Library in a Single Book !' as the ad campaign for the e-reader has it -- false though the promise is -- but then the customer-key they were aiming for wasn't comprehensiveness:
The important thing was not even that they purchase the most recent ebooks, but that over and over they buy the possibility of purchasing them.
       Another storyline presents episodes in the married life of Carmen and Dieumercie Bonacieux, and their increasingly desperate attempts to get a rise out of the impotent husband -- all of which go wrong, in often truly disastrous ways. (Among the collateral damage is a poor bunny, Pile-poil, in a truly horrific scene.)
       The main storyline, however, involves a mystery cum quest tale: the 'Ananke' -- "the largest diamond ever excavated from an earthly mine" -- has been stolen, and the man hired to retrieve it teams up with others on a trail that leads to the farthest reaches of the Pacific. There are mysterious clues to decipher, a killer known as the Noh Straddler -- and the dubious inspector Scummington on his trail -- to avoid, a daughter named Verity who has been asleep for nearly a decade (and is dragged along for the ride), and even an assault on the Transsiberian railway as they make their way east. The (truly ultimate) destination -- Point Nemo -- then offers even greater surprises, another world unto itself, with its own mysteries and dangers.
       This part of the novel -- the dominant part -- is an adventure tale in the grand old style, moving along far and fast. Jules Verne is the most obvious influence, but far from the only one -- and from the first Blas de Roblès makes clear readers understand that this is a novel of influence -- indeed, that's pretty much the point of the novel.
       So, for example, the man charged with finding the Ananke is introduced first only as 'Holmes', and then as 'Shylock Holmes' -- and only then does the authorial voice interrupt and clarify:
     Before letting Holmes respond, it would be well for us to dispel any misunderstandings about the man. Although he bore the name of the illustrious detective, John Shylock Holmes had inherited nothing from that line besides a questionable sense of humor and a strong confidence in his own expertise.
       To call Island of Point Nemo a pastiche-novel is also an over-simplification, though Blas de Roblès very obviously also presents it as such. The story is also intentionally nearly timeless, with only specific aspects -- the e-reader factory, for example -- truly narrowing to specific points of time; most of the adventures could be happening anytime from 1850 to the near future, give or take some steampunkish-embellishments. So too, its literary stylings mix and match from the past two centuries, and the material ranges from the more obviously freely invented to, for example, a (vivid) account of the Barnum's American Museum fire of 1865.
       Blas de Roblès has good fun veering from the realistic to the literary-allusional -- and so, for example, arrival at/on Point Nemo is greeted with the realization:
Everything leads to the conclusion that we are entering for the first time what should be called a 'metaphor.'
       Blas de Roblès' theses in this thesis-novel are: "There is no reality that is not rooted in some prior fiction", and "every book is the anagram of another". All our stories -- and hence all our realities, too -- have been written before, and it's just a matter of new and old variations -- illustrated beautifully in a bug that makes its way onto the B@bil Books e-reader, where: "Every time you open a book, the machine pinches random phrases from all the others and reconstructs a totally nonsensical page". Island of Point Nemo is, in parts and ways, such a reassembled novel too -- as Blas de Roblès argues all imagination is merely the taking of all the detritus we accumulate -- which then nevertheless can become something fantastical and new as well: "Absolutely nothing that is not born of recycling" -- as is the case even with the most fantastical of his inventions, the island of Point Nemo, even as that is, in so many ways, entirely familiar too .....
       As to the emphasis on reading aloud, rather than the written word ?
Only the practice of reading aloud could keep us all in a single plot, make our dreams uniform.
       Blas de Roblès takes great pleasure in mixing styles and genres, and Island of Point Nemo is both an adventure-tale of the very traditional sort, moving quickly from one exciting episode to the next, as well as a much more relaxed larger project, demonstrating that: "Every sentence written is presage". It is also all cleverly woven together, the disparate stories showing sometimes unlikely connections -- as do the characters in the individual storylines.
       Blas de Roblès is also very good with the feint, suggesting something is one thing, before the big reveal, that shows us it was something else entirely all along, from the grand opening scene, Alexander the Great in battle with Persian king Darius, to the 'island of Point Nemo' itself.
       Parts are arguably too rough and quick, and there is a rather shocking amount of violence against animals (the bunny, the bunny ...) that some readers will find very disturbing, and the story is certainly uneven. Still, this is a book that is mostly successful in its smaller parts -- good, fun rollicking adventure, with maybe a few trying-to-be-too-clever twists upon twists -- and certainly so as a larger whole. As imitation of and commentary on the great tradition of storytelling-fiction -- from Verne, Dumas, Hugo, Sue, through Conan Doyle --, with several modern-day twists to reflect our times and conditions, Island of Point Nemo is an enjoyable and quite impressive work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 July 2017

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Island of Point Nemo: Reviews: Other books by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès was born in 1954.

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