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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Dusty Pink

Jean-Jacques Schuhl

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To purchase Dusty Pink

Title: Dusty Pink
Author: Jean-Jacques Schuhl
Genre: Novel
Written: 1972 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 123 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Dusty Pink - US
Dusty Pink - UK
Dusty Pink - Canada
Rose poussière - Canada
Rose poussière - France
  • French title: Rose poussière
  • Translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman

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Our Assessment:

B+ : unusual and multiply varied very period piece

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Jean-Jacques Schuhl's 1972 work Dusty Pink is an assemblage, a composite of its times (well, the late 1960s) that, appropriately enough, relies on everything from race wire results and pharmaceutical leaflets to fashion ads: "strips and scraps upon which the times are surreptitiously inscribed far better than any works of art", as Schuhl notes in his prefatory remarks. It is neither really documentary, nor pure collage-work, but it does riff off the signs, symbols, art, and personalities of the times. It offers little straightforward story: a final section,'The Two Scarves', is presented as a 'novel' and focuses on the death of Rolling Stones' co-founder Brian Jones, but even here Schuhl notes: "I write Brian Jones, I could write X or Y"; the essence of Schuhl's approach is, as he puts it elsewhere: "A whole story bound up in a stance", as it is stance (and presentation and reception) as a reflection of the times that is of interest to him.
       There are no images reproduced in the text proper (save an excerpt from a musical score, the Rolling Stones' 'Complicated'); instead, the corresponding pictures are presented on the cover (identical for the French and English editions) -- five scenes from the book, and a suggestion already of its composite nature. The back cover, too, features a photograph, of 'Frankenstein-the-Dandy', to whom Schuhl devotes a short section of the novel, a person-creation typifying the times -- not least with his: "banal pair of tinted glasses", an accessory which: "everything within him arises from and centers upon". ('Frankenstein-the-Dandy' -- a stylized human construct -- is, of course, emblematic of the work as a whole.)
       The title-color crops up several times, most notably in a scene where:

     A salesgirl-model has dumped an entire container of "dusty pink" powder on her face: she's nothing more than a pink plaster cast now.
       It's an extreme case of disguised surface, but this re-presentation of self, with accoutrements of (generally) fashion, is found throughout the book. So also Dusty Pink opens with a section on 'The Boots' -- interchangeable ("23,000 identical pairs of boots that don't belong to anyone") yet very much defining (it's the riot cops that wear these boots).
       Schuhl presents and comments on several film-scenes. He notes -- in this written text that is Dusty Pink -- that presentation, gesture, style, as played out on the screen, make so much greater of an impression than the words alone:
     What she and they weave together with two or three wholly banal sentences far surpasses the mere words themselves.
       In particular, he returns to the early days of film, specifically the shift from silent to sound film, leading to a transformation which manifests itself in the present-day as well:
     The gestures end, speech begins: it will be necessary to find new gestures. [...] The birth of the talkies wreaked havoc not only on cinema, but also, probably, on the way people behaved, their skeletal structures, the bearing of their arms, the mouths of millions of people.
       Dusty Pink is an attempt to consider the present-day new gestures and representations -- style and fashion, the presentation of the person(al) ("Second hand beauty. Made of borrowings", he suggests at one point); a section analyzing 'the teenager' ('Composite Portrait of Mutant 66', as it is titled) beautifully-cruelly identifies the basics: 'The Gaze', 'The Gait', 'The Voice', etc.
       In this 1960s time of the rise of the pop-superstar he diagnoses:
     British bands are, above all, groups. They're only incidentally musicians. The music serves as pretext for making things together, and making things resound together. Things rather than sounds. They are a prelude to armed groups.
       The Rolling Stones feature prominently as examples, Frankenstein-the-Dandies on a much grander scale, as:
     Like all superstars the rolling stones aren't anything anymore: anything but us.
       And he suggests:
     Like all others transformed by glory, the rolling stones have lost their souls definitively: they're hollow, which is why they resonate so well.
       An apparent hodgepodge, Dusty Pink also challenges with its varied presentation, ranging from how the text is printed -- including in two columns and text-in-a-box -- to the different sections themselves. Some sections are more essayistic, some observational, some more freely imagined and creative -- as Schuhl clearly feels any attempt at pure fiction isn't adequate any longer, not for this. Much is taken from the (then) present-day -- but Schuhl also reaches back for scenes and references from old films. Just as his thesis focuses on composites, so too the presentation reflects that, the text taken from and addressing so many sources.
       It's not in any way an easy or straightforward read, but it largely works, taken on its own terms. (It's also not very long.) In many ways it is inspired: give yourself in to it and there are considerable rewards here. For all its disparate elements and approaches, Dusty Pink is a surprisingly cohesive whole.
       Certainly, this is a fascinating piece of and comment on its times -- and one which still resonates in our own.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 October 2018

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Dusty Pink: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       French author Jean-Jacques Schuhl was born in 1941.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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