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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Julien Parme

Florian Zeller

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To purchase Julien Parme

Title: Julien Parme
Author: Florian Zeller
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 259 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Julien Parme - US
Julien Parme - UK
Julien Parme - Canada
Julien Parme - Canada (French)
Julien Parme - India
Julien Parme - France
  • French title: Julien Parme
  • Translated by William Rodarmor

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Our Assessment:

B : the adolescent voice convincing enough -- but it's still just an adolescent's story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Figaro . 8/12/2006 Sébastien Le Fol
The Independent . 5/8/2008 C.J.Schüler
The Village Voice . 13/5/2008 Eric Liebetrau

  From the Reviews:
  • "Julien Parme n'est ni un chef-d'oeuvre ni une imposture." - Sébastien Le Fol, Le Figaro

  • "This fourth novel by an award-winning French writer is a tour de force of literary ventriloquism. Julien is as unreliable a narrator as we are likely to come across, telling as fact things he contradicts, regaling us with fantasies in which, a few pages later, he has come to believe. His sufferings are as epic as his ambitions (.....) Julien never quite sacrifices our sympathies and, thanks in part to Christopher Moncrieff's stylish, street-smart translation, the reader is completely caught up in his adolescent longings, his sense of boundless possibility and danger, and his desperate need to construct a place for himself in the world." - C.J.Schüler, The Independent

  • "Despite some endearing insights, Julien's musings do little to prop up the meandering narrative, as the book's few moments of genuine pathos continue to evaporate into the Parisian night." - Eric Liebetrau, The Village Voice

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:

       Julien Parme, written by an author still only in his twenties, may sound like a typical first novel, but Florian Zeller already has several works under his belt -- which, in turn, makes Julien Parme seem like an odd sort of retreat, into ground that's been well-covered by many, many others. It's a novel narrated by young Julien Parme, and focussed on one weekend of his fourteen-year-old life. Parme is your typical novel-narrating teen: a would-be writer (imagining himself taking the Nobel Prize at 20), miserable at home, with few real friends, given to ridiculous exaggeration, just beginning to try to impress the girls (and barely having any idea how to do it). He only seems to manage to stay afloat -- in real life, and in his written account -- through insecure bombast, right from the get-go, beginning his story:

     Even if it blows your mind, I want to tell you about this unbelievable thing that happened to me last year. I'm not bragging, but things as unbelievable as the one I'm going to tell you don't happen every day, I swear. In fact, they never happen. That's why I'm talking about it. Because I'm not the kind of person who bullshits people about my own life. It's a matter of style.
       But bullshit he does, and style is something he's still trying to figure out. Indeed, Zeller doesn't give his hero much of a chance to prove himself, stacking the deck against him with the boy's (supposedly typically teen) complete self-unawareness:
     So when someone says he's got an unbelievable thing to tell you, I watch out. You can't ever let a guy who tells you that get started. Otherwise you're a goner: you'll have to listen to him right to the end.
     But in my particular case, it's not the same thing since I'm the one telling it.
       The story Julien has to tell is of how he wound up in Saint-Dié, which is where he reflects upon (or obsesses about) that weekend that got him sent here. The first chapter pretty much spells out his present situation -- so there's little mystery of what will finally happen to him, despite all the adventures he recounts -- but he's still hung up on the past. The focus isn't on what's happened recently, or even what life in Saint-Dié is like, but rather the episode(s) in Paris where he blew it. After a short introductory chapter he begins his account from the beginning, and describes his lost weekend.
       Julien's father died a few years earlier, and he and his mother were living with François, "a jerk in a goatee and corduroy pants" who is the "last one in a parade of losers" mom went out with. Julien isn't too much of a rebellious teen, but he obviously has some issues and he (and his mother) don't seem to be handling them too well. Caught smoking in the school bathroom, Julien's mother grounds him, forbidding him from going to a birthday party he was particularly excited about, as he as a secret crush on Mathilde, the sister of the birthday-girl. With (supposedly typical) teen logic, he feels wronged, after mom had originally said he could go:
I was in the wrong. I admit it. But honestly, I think it's unfair. It isn't right to go back on your decisions.
       Of course, Julien winds up going, and everything winds up spiraling out of control over the weekend. The adventures aren't unbelievable -- indeed, for the most part, they're only the cringe-inducing typical over-reactions of a teen, bragging with absurd tales, thinking that flashing some money will impress everyone, with all sorts of flourishes of immature bravado. (American audiences may, however, wonder how a fourteen-year-old -- especially one who sounds and acts as immature as Julien does -- could have such an easy time getting alcohol in a variety of establishments, or getting a hotel room.)
       Julien decides early on he's had it with home, and that he can't go back again. But he doesn't have any real plan either (and the conclusion of his adventure is a foregone one, as we know he winds up being packed off to Saint-Dié). What he does do and gets through has a ring of plausibility, for the most part -- silly, harmless, stupid adolescent stuff -- though Zeller tries a bit too hard with the voice on occasion (making for a protagonist it's hard to completely sympathise with).
       There are odd loose ends -- a passion for a teacher, whom he all-too conveniently runs into, for example -- but also some solid touches, like the limited concentration span that makes for continuously changing plans and deeds. A few things Zeller does very well, especially the awkwardness between Mathilde and Julien, their scenes the ones that ring the most true. Julien's blindness to how ridiculous a figure he cuts is also sort of convincing -- but can't help the fact that he does cut such a ridiculous figure, which doesn't make him particularly endearing.
       The first chapter makes clear the events in the rest of the book took place a while back -- "a year ago" -- but all those other chapters are of a terrible immediacy, Julien retracing every step and thought just as it happened. It's a bizarre contrast, and undermines the narrative as a whole, as one would imagine that the gap gave Julien time to reflect on those events (and perhaps recognise some of his missteps); instead he only regurgitates them, without any benefit of hindsight. Perhaps this is how we are meant to see foolish youth, the mature readers wise enough to draw their own lessons from them, but in fact it leaves too much unanswered.
       For an awkward-confused-teen novel Zeller has chosen a fairly harmless protagonist (and, admittedly, a difficult age) -- making also for fairly harmless adventures and issues. There's something to be said for a very average hero (as protagonists is such child- and teen-narrated books tend far too often to be ridiculously precocious -- which Julien is decidedly not), but there's so little to him that's exceptional (and so little space devoted to the family-issues which appear to be at the root of most of his troubles) that he's not particularly interesting, either. Some of the situations he gets himself into -- especially as he recounts his tall tales to others -- are somewhat amusing, but ultimately not particularly remarkable either.
       Julien Parme is an odd sort of teen-novel, with the most interesting parts -- the aftermath of that weekend -- only outlined (in the first chapter, at that). It's not bad, but it feels misbegotten.

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Julien Parme: Reviews: Other books by Florian Zeller under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Florian Zeller was born in 1979.

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© 2008-2021 the complete review

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