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the Complete Review
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On Wooden Tablets:
Apronenia Avitia

Pascal Quignard

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Title: On Wooden Tablets: Apronenia Avitia
Author: Pascal Quignard
Genre: Novel
Written: 1984 (Eng. 2001)
Length: 107 pages
Original in: French
Availability: On Wooden Tablets: Apronenia Avitia - US
On Wooden Tablets: Apronenia Avitia - UK
On Wooden Tablets: Apronenia Avitia - Canada
Les tablettes de buis d'Apronenia Avitia - France
  • French title: Les tablettes de buis d'Apronenia Avitia
  • Translated by Bruce X.

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Our Assessment:

B+ : odd, but has a certain charm

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       On Wooden Tablets: Apronenia Avitia purports to be a collection of notes -- a sort of daybook -- written on wooden tablets (buxi) by a fairly wealthy Roman woman named Apronenia Avitia around 400 A.D. It also includes an introductory section on the "Life of Apronenia Avitia", fabricating a convincing biography and providing some background for her writings..
       Apronenia's writings are presented in eight chapters, a total of 183 generally very brief entries (only a handful are as long as a page or so in length). A few episodes are related, as are some anecdotes, dreams, and simple observations, but most of the entries are little more than jottings. There are numerous entries with headings such as:

  • Things Not to Forget
  • Things to Remember
  • Things to Do
       Among the oddest is the often repeated Bags of Gold -- the entry in full generally then reading: "24 bags of gold".
       Apronenia lists everything from things she likes and dislikes to things people have said to thoughts about orifices. As she ages -- born in 343, these wooden-tablet writings date from between 395 and 414 -- decrepitude and death concern her more.
       As the introductory section notes, Apronenia witnessed the rapid rise of Christianity in Rome (and the concomitant collapse of empire) -- but she chooses not to even mention it by name in her jottings. History and all the change around her is not directly recorded, but does cast a shadow over many of the entries. It is only in the introduction that the circumstances are fully explored. Quignard writes of what Volusianus wrote to his niece, how: "Since Christianity has triumphed, life is less cheerful", and:
Before the rise of the Christians, books were better written, life was more radiant, more desirable, dwellings larger and more splendid, joy more contagious, light more dazzling, sex-smells more exciting and funkier; even the sardines and grilled sausages had another taste. Since the promulgation of Honorius's Edict, the loss of Rome's gods, and the presence of the Goths, Rome is devastated; wine has turned to blood (...) art has disappeared, there are only ruins.
       Apronenia's notes are much more subtle, offering only up-close glimpses of details, the external decay overlapping with her own physical decline.

       On Wooden Tablets: Apronenia Avitia is an odd little book, the detailed and specific introduction standing in contrast to the vague jottings that are meant to be taken for Apronenia's writings. But Quignard is successful in evoking a character: there is enough here for the reader to feel s/he understands who Apronenia was and what her life was like -- and to also get a hint of what those times could have been like. The purpose of the exercise isn't entirely clear, but there is enough charm and cleverness to it -- and it's brief enough -- for it to intrigue.

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On Wooden Tablets: Apronenia Avitia: Reviews: Other books by Pascal Quignard under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       French author Pascal Quignard was born 23 April 1948.

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