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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Anthology of Apparitions

Simon Liberati

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To purchase Anthology of Apparitions

Title: Anthology of Apparitions
Author: Simon Liberati
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 139 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Anthology of Apparitions - US
Anthology of Apparitions - UK
Anthology of Apparitions - Canada
Anthologie des apparitions - Canada
Anthologie des apparitions - France
  • French title: Anthologie des apparitions
  • Translated by Paul Buck and Catherine Petit

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Our Assessment:

B- : modestly effective portrait of a dissolute and lost generation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Independent on Sunday -- 16/10/2005 Tim Martin
New Statesman A 24/10/2005 Simon Baker
The Spectator . 5/11/2005 Lucy Beresford
TLS . 2/12/2005 Claudia Pugh-Thomas

  From the Reviews:
  • "It's probably as well that I mention Paul Buck and Catherine Petit now, since they've done something I have never seen before in a commercially published work of literature: produced a translation that, word for word, paragraph for paragraph, is actually worse than you might expect from a semi-competent A-level student in a tricky unseen exam.(...) In fairness, you sometimes find yourself wanting to read the book proper rather than the gibber of its translation - which stands testament to M Liberati's skill in the face of astonishing adversity. I wish somebody would retranslate Anthology of Apparitions soon. Then I expect I could write a proper review." - Tim Martin, Independent on Sunday

  • "This is a novel packed with angry assertions, making it feel, on occasion, like an embittered sermon. But oddly, this approach works. Even when Claude's claims are patently untrue (everyone is out to exploit the young, for instance), his narrative is endearing in its wounded subjectivity. The book is patient and analytical, deconstructing a character who is paradoxically both lazy and obsessively thoughtful, and it must be read slowly to be appreciated. While this is a brutal and self-consciously referential work, it is also fascinating, well written and rewardingly different from the countless novels about people you think you recognise or, worse, think you are. Anthology of Apparitions is a valuable and at times tender examination of an unenviable, alien soul." - Simon Baker, New Statesman

  • "Itís very French, in a surreal, self-absorbed type way." - Lucy Beresford, The Spectator

  • "Altogether too knowing and self-conscious, Liberati can neither relinquish control of his creation nor trust in his reader to extract significance from longwinded passages and gossipy dialogue. (...) When Marina disappears, she is not much missed, least of all by her brother. And therein is the key to the novel's failure. At its core is a vacuum: of love, regret, redemption, or any of the things that make us human. This truly is an anthology of apparitions, a tableau of half-formed, nocturnal phantoms, and although Liberati's cast of wretched characters might spook a sensitive soul briefly, it is hard to believe in, or care for, these insubstantial creations." - Claudia Pugh-Thomas, 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:

       Simon Liberati's Anthology of Apparitions focusses on the generation that came of age in Paris in the late-1970s. The central character is Claude, and he's first introduced in the present, when he's in his forties -- unemployed, the electricity in his small apartment shut off, barely getting by, but still with a certain carefree (and lost) air of his youth. Sitting in a café, he meets a ghost from the past, a fleeting figure who, though he last saw her a quarter of a century earlier, hasn't aged a bit. "I heard your sister is dead", she says, but he's distracted by a phone call and by the time he turns back to her she's gone.
       Claude's sister disappeared in the summer of 1987, and much of the book revisits their youth and the paths they chose (or couldn't get off), as Claude hasn't really moved on since that time.
       Their early childhood spent in the aftermath of 1968, they were ruined by the aimless freedoms and permissive culture of the 70s:

Anyway, 'crazy' will remain one of the most flattering attributes of their generation.
       Claude and Annie Boudin's father is a bank clerk, their mother a nurse, and their childhood seems like a petit-bourgeois idyll:
     These kind of people didn't own a television either and in the evening their father read aloud to his children. Before Chateaubriand he had read them Tolstoy's War and Peace, and several novels by Dickens.
       From fervent little Christians and obedient children they make a radical about-turn before they hit their teens -- with a helpful shove from child psychiatrist Ben Chemoul, to whom young Annie is sent in 1975. In short order Annie is transformed into Marina (the name she wants to be known by), returning from a doctor-prescribed stay away from home: "with opinions, vocabulary and manners that appeared extremely modern to Claude." (Getting deflowered by the good doctor at her first appointment probably also played some part in pushing her over this edge.)
       Ben Chemoul was quite the character -- and obviously not a great influence, even as he had these children (and others) under his sway. The Boudins also, for a while, took in a fellow-patient, Sophie:
Introduced by her mother to LSD and alcohol at the age of nine, knowing all the nightclubs in Paris, Mégève and Saint-Tropez, little Sophie was a kind of phenomenon (as Claude's mother used to say).
       It's a bizarre fantasy-playland that the children -- and they are still children here -- inhabit, workable in childhood but preventing them from making a transition to any sort of adulthood and maturity. Claude, for example:
At sixteen, he still imagined, like the other children, that meeting someone was going to shield him from the precariousness of life.
       Claude becomes a hanger-on in a crowd of hangers-on, finding validation in brief proximity with the famous and wealthy, accepting a role as a procurer of attractive women for others to surround themselves with. In a sense, he's a pimp, and he sells out both his sister and the woman he married along the way -- though it's so in fitting with the lifestyle he and all around him enjoy that it's hardly shocking or surprising.
       With some poetic aspirations (with a decadent bent -- to the end: "He could picture himself as Des Esseintes, the hero of the novel he liked"), Claude doesn't even have it in him to truly create anything; the idea of an 'Anthology of Apparitions' is that of a rare surviving friend, Ali, who keeps a whole catalogue of characters on detailed note cards with which he tracks all his acquaintances and which he plans to use in a book of that title.
       Anthology of Apparitions is a loosely -- and somewhat messily -- presented novel of lives that never amounted to much, stunted far too early leaving them all appearance and practically no substance. An authorial voice breaks in at one point to explain:
Our aim is not to tell him, or her, stories, but to conjure up apparitions. This book also contains, in a minor way, the vindication of youth considered as the loss of innocence, in other words, the gradual awareness of its own exchange value, of beauty as it incites to disinterest, idleness and contempt for all merit, and, more generally, of weakness, grace and the lack of appetite of those who are aware they are desired.
       Claude and his sister are pretty but empty people, and while Annie/Marina has the excuse of being taken advantage of by the perverted doctor, Claude was as easily seduced.
       Anthology of Apparitions is a novel of a generation -- or a variation on a segment of society that reappears, in slightly different form and costumes, every few years. Mostly harmless, mostly pathetic, it's hardly an appealing crowd (beyond the surface appeal of their looks), but Liberati's account manages to imbue it all with at least an echo of pathos, putting it a cut above most such fictions.

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Anthology of Apparitions: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Simon Liberati was born in 1960.

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© 2006-2009 the complete review

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