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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Marie NDiaye

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To purchase Ladivine

Title: Ladivine
Author: Marie NDiaye
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 276 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Ladivine - US
Ladivine - UK
Ladivine - Canada
Ladivine - Canada (French)
Ladivine - France
Ladivine - Deutschland
  • French title: Ladivine
  • Translated by Jordan Stump

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Our Assessment:

A- : brutally honest and exposing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 8/5/2016 Patrick McGrath
NZZ . 20/5/2014 Maike Albath
Wall St. Journal . 22/4/2016 Sam Sacks
World Lit. Today . 7-8/2013 Adele King

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) work of immense power and mystery (.....) Uncanny events unfold, weird juxtapositions, doublings, recognitions, abjections. (...) What’s going on here ? It has been said that NDiaye’s work is impossible to decode at the level of either psychology or conventional narrative. (...) It’s a wild ghost story, rooted in immigration and exile." - Patrick McGrath, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Mit bedrängenden Szenen, prägnanten Bildern und wie Beschwörungen wirkenden Wiederholungen steigt Marie NDiaye in ihre Geschichte ein (.....) Das ist das Unheimliche und Mitreissende an NDiayes Roman: So ausserordentlich die Bindungen zwischen den Familienmitgliedern bei ihr sind, so präzise benennt sie Abgründe, wie sie jeder kennt. Verschmelzungswünsche, tiefe Ambivalenz oder zerstörerische Autonomie sind für Marie NDiaye der Kern von Beziehungen." - Maike Albath, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "The parallel but non-overlapping narratives of the two Ladivines provide the novel’s most haunting effects. Yet while Ms. NDiaye addresses her themes of separation and disappearance with artistry, it is overshadowed by the book’s grim, devoutly humorless tone. Translator Jordan Stump has done faithful, diligent work, but the prose is as solemn and droning as a church organ." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

  • "NDiaye’s manner of writing has often been compared to Proust’s, with long sentences and much use of the imperfect subjunctive that many modern writers avoid. Here she has created a world of mystery, dream, and sensuality in a very controlled style." - Adele King, World Literature Today

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:

       'Ladivine' is the name of not one but two of the characters in the eponymous novel -- united by a third who, at the beginning, is the central and dominant figure. This figure -- the daughter of one Ladivine, the mother of the other -- has a bifurcated identity and life. Ladivine named her daughter Malinka, but the daughter moved on, to a different name and identity -- Clarisse, and then, when she married, Clarisse Rivière (a surname she clung to even after her divorce, "fiercely, militantly insisting that she had every right") -- and a separated life. All that connects her to her mother in adulthood is a furtive monthly trip to visit the woman she has condescendingly referred to since her youth as 'the servant'; even her husband and then daughter remain unaware even of the existence of the elder Ladivine.
       A long first section, the first third or so of the book, centers on Malinka/Clarisse's life, describing her mother's (servile and uncritical) devotion to the child and then the child's detachment, as Malinka determinedly drifts away from Ladivine and what she represents. Ladivine only wants the best for her girl, but is incapable of directing her and instead completely acquiescent, even when Malinka drops out of school. Malinka only wants to get away, and in seeking to make a new life for herself she tries to reinvent herself too, severing all ties with her roots (simple enough in this case, since there's only her mother) and making herself 'Clarisse'. Ladivine can't easily let go, but they find a precarious balance in Malinka returning monthly for her visits and otherwise remaining out of touch and reach.
       Clarisse marries, Clarisse has a daughter -- "When the child was born, she named her Ladivine. That was the servant's first name". It suggests that she grasps for some family-ties to hold onto too, creating a connection, but though she momentarily wavers she continues to keep her two lives, past and present, separate.
       Clarisse is happily married, and yet the perfect household isn't perfect. Superficially, everything seems fine (for the most part -- though we later learn that Clarisse and husband Richard were perhaps too lax and unquestioningly tolerant in their handling of teenage Ladivine) but something is also off. To the outsider -- the reader -- it's obvious: Ladivine is a novel of emotional distance, of abysses that must doom any relationship. And at some points even some of the characters are aware of it -- even as they are unable to counter-act it:

     Clarisse Rivière felt the cold settling in, furtively filling the house, seeming to grip Richard Rivière and Ladivine, gradually encasing them, too, in the very delicate rime of a slightly stiff demeanor. But she didn't know what to do so that this wouldn't be.
       After more than two decades of marriage, and with the daughter having slipped away to Germany to start a new life there (something barely mentioned in the Clarisse-heavy opening section), Richard has enough and leaves Clarisse. She has difficulty moving on, but eventually befriends a man who is forthright and open in a way she has never been able to. He admits who he is, and for a while that helps open up Clarisse, too; she even introduces him to her mother -- something she had never done with her husband or even her daughter. But in bringing this troubled man, whom she sees for all he is, into her life she is also acting what amounts to suicidally.
       Among the sections of the novel following this long introductory one that covered Malinka/Clarisse's life brief ones focus on her mother and the grand-daughter Clarisse barely knew; a longer one describes the younger Ladivine's life -- and another briefly brings Richard to the fore.
       Ladivine Rivière made a life for herself in Germany, marrying Marko, having two children, Annika and Daniel. Much of the long section centered on her revolves around the family's vacations, seeking out escapes that might somehow bridge emotional distances -- and wind up doing the opposite. Vacation plans lead to the estrangement from Marko's parents, as this family unit become yet another in the line of isolated ones. (Clarisse had attended the wedding and later met the children, but Richard, for example, didn't go to his daughter's wedding and never met the his son-in-law or grandchildren, maintaining a warm but decidedly long-distance relationship.)
       Richard and Clarisse had been "utterly nonjudgmental" as parents -- to an almost ridiculous and nevertheless plausible degree -- and it is this lack of any firm judgment or opinion that carries over to their child too. In their emotional distance, each wo/man an island, so many of the characters here refuse to commit themselves in any way that would allow others to lean on them, making it so easy for them to drift or fall off and apart. There is no clarity in these characters' lives -- with NDiaye brilliantly showing in a variety of scenes how this is beginning to rub off on the young children, Annika and Daniel.
       Things come to a head for Ladivine and Marko when they turn to Richard for a suggestion as to where they could travel to on vacation. It is a nightmarish trip -- with beautiful absurdities such as them losing their luggage on the flight, and then finding what they are certain are their clothes for sale on the streets (all the more unsettling because among the clothes are some that they are sure they didn't pack ...).
       Incidentally, Ladivine is a novel of murder: there are (apparently) two violent deaths, the one entirely off-scene (yet playing a continued important role in the anticipated courtroom resolution that is meant to fix everything), the other leaving visible traces but barely any (obvious) consequences. It is a novel of disappearances, of daughters leaving mothers and mothers leaving their children. It is a novel of doubles -- twinned characters named Ladivine, Clarisse, and Wellington (the latter two only shadowy reflections of the originals). It is a novel of transformations and re-appearances -- and (much-more-than-)dogs, with one of the novel's most poignant scenes having Annika want to cry out:
     Let's bring that dog with us, let's take it home !
     But she held back, out of pity and love for her father.
       There are rich layers of subtext throughout the novel, especially regarding identity. Race is barely touched upon, but there are suggestions of how much of a black and white novel this is, from Malinka's name(s) to the horrible vacation that apparently takes the family to an African country. There are super-natural elements to parts of the novel, too -- the roles (and, ultimately, identities) of the dogs, of course and their suggestion of a transmigration of souls, as well as the title-name (yes, 'la divine').
       Ladivine is a family novel -- a family saga, spanning four generations -- that is as bleak as any, not so much because of the tragedies that happen but because of the characters' fundamental inabilities to find happiness with each other. Yes, there's a happy end of sorts -- "the promise of a new light cast over each and every day" are the closing words, the elder Ladivine even feeling a "dizzying rush of happiness" -- but the human toll, the daily cost until then has been so crushingly high.
       Ladivine is brutal in its honesty, exposing its flawed and in many ways unfeeling -- simply incapable of feeling -- characters to the bone. It is exceptionally well written -- a literally staggering work, leaving the reader punch-drunk by its uncompromising descriptions of the very essence of these characters. Of course, that means it's also cold, at times even clinical; for those who need to empathize with the characters they read about there's practically nothing to work with here.
       This is about as un-feel-good as a novel can get -- brilliant, in many ways, but difficult to like or in almost any way enjoy.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 April 2016

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Ladivine: Reviews: Other books by Marie NDiaye under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Marie NDiaye was born in 1967.

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© 2016-2021 the complete review

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