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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Most Beautiful Book
in the World

Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt

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To purchase The Most Beautiful Book in the World

Title: The Most Beautiful Book in the World
Author: Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
Genre: Stories
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 184 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Most Beautiful Book in the World - US
The Most Beautiful Book in the World - UK
The Most Beautiful Book in the World - Canada
Odette Toulemonde - Canada
Odette Toulemonde - France
Odette Toulemonde - Deutschland
  • Eight Novellas
  • French title: Odette Toulemonde et autres histoires
  • Translated by Alison Anderson

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Our Assessment:

C : achingly saccharine stuff, artificial and cloying

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Boston Globe . 16/8/2009 Barbara Fisher
L'Express . 30/11/2006 Anne Berthod

  From the Reviews:
  • "There is a surprising sweetness to these stories of redemption and reconciliation. They carry a slight pleasant aftertaste, a lingering hint of delight. The central characters, all women, get more than they deserve or ironically get more than they understand, often by giving more than they know. Their consolations, transformations, unintended gifts, are rewards for them and for a reader as well." - Barbara Fisher, Boston Globe

  • "Car Schmitt le fort en thème ne rate pas ses développements: nourris de réflexions simples sur le destin, l'amour et la rédemption, ils font passer la pilule métaphysique avec une fantaisie gracieuse. Et une sincérité touchante." - Anne Berthod, L'Express

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 Most Beautiful Book in the World is billed as a collection of Eight Novellas despite covering a mere 184 pages, but these short stories do have novella-ambitions: they're life-summarizing pieces (even if most of that summary comes in a single encounter or relatively brief episode), often having to do with events from long ago. Typical for Schmitt's laziness is that he kills off a pivotal character in most of the stories -- to get to and make his point as emphatically as possible -- and, indeed, as much as anything these stories are reflections on mortality and lives well lived.
       These stories are filled with flawed people who nevertheless are revealed to be noble spirits; there are generous and sometimes even self-less gestures large and small, and people faced with surprising situations -- the woman who has established herself in the world (by marrying a succession of wealthy men) encountering the (untalented) artist who was her first stepping-stone on the way to becoming the woman she now is, a timid clerk who admires the bestselling hack and see his worth, a talentless actor who tries to seek out the one 'princess' who treated him so regally years earlier (only to discover that he completely misread that encounter). Schmitt's characters, both small and grand, are often flawed but fundamentally decent; the right thing gets done in the end (or, occasionally, in the beginning), and it often changes the life of another in wonderful ways, whether materially or otherwise. As one beneficiary puts it in the closing of one story:

She passed her values on to me, and that, more than any precious Picasso, is without a doubt her greatest gift.
       Oh, it's all well-intentioned and whatnot (yes, Schmitt seems sincere enough), and Schmitt is a competent writer, with these stories surely shaped just as he wants them to be -- but so much of it is just patronizing gush, often close to nauseating. Schmitt populates his stories with mediocre artists, both popular and failed, and it's as if he wants to prove with his own offerings that it is intentions that matter, not art. These fables are so weighed down by their morals that they are almost all deadly leaden, even where they are decently crafted. Even the title story -- presented as based on fact --, which, despite being simplistic, should be truly moving, is almost insultingly manipulative in Schmitt's presentation.
       Schlock fiction that feels straight out of old editions of Reader's Digest, the (would-be) heartstring-tugging stories in The Most Beautiful Book in the World suffer for their compactness, Schmitt in such a rush to cram his lessons in that what he leaves the reader with is a cake entirely out of (bleached) sugar. Arguably successful on its own (very dubious) terms, this may be to some readers' tastes -- his unrefined everywoman 'Odette Toulemonde' with her tell-tale name (which served as the title of the original French collection), Schmitt would surely argue -- but, despite admiring his talent and some of his other work, I found this collection near-unbearable.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 June 2010

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The Most Beautiful Book in the World: Reviews: Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt: Other books by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French playwright and author Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt was born in 1960.

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