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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Avant le polar

Paul Fournel

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To purchase Avant le polar

Title: Avant le polar
Author: Paul Fournel
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016
Length: 75 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Avant le polar - France
  • 99 notes préparatoires à l'écriture d'un roman policier
  • Avant le polar has not been translated into English yet

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Our Assessment:

B+ : enjoyable genre-play

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 3/7/2016 Delphine Peras
Libération . 13/7/2016 Alexandra Schwartzbrod
Le Monde . 23/6/2016 Eric Chevillard

  From the Reviews:
  • "Résultat, un vrai roman policier à suspense et une mise en abîme désopilante; d'un côté les péripéties, de l'autre la recette pour écrivain potentiel. Car l'auteur, malin, alterne les registres de style - comme les niveaux de langage, du plus écrit au plus familier." - Delphine Peras, L'Express

  • "A lire ce court texte divisé en 99 recommandations, on imagine bien Paul Fournel mâchouiller son crayon en réfléchissant, l’œil malicieux, aux bonnes blagues qu’il pourrait bien glisser entre deux saynètes." - Alexandra Schwartzbrod, Libération

  • "Constitué de fragments numérotés, le récit alterne les commentaires et les ­scènes jouées comme en répétition par l’auteur et ses personnages. Paul Fournel se montre soucieux de préparer au mieux « le temps de l’écriture à venir ». Il ouvre et referme des pistes, semblable à son enquêteur, moins maussade que lui cependant, plutôt malicieux commissaire à moustache de cet ouvroir de ­littérature policière." - Eric Chevillard, Le Monde

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 subtitle, 99 notes préparatoires à l'écriture d'un roman policier ('99 preparatory notes for the writing of a crime novel'), might suggest Avant le polar is something of a how-to guide, or the foundational outline of a crime novel, revealing what goes into the writing of such a book. The fact that the author is the president of the constrained-writing group Oulipo, and that the work is dedicated to fellow Oulipian Frédéric Forte and obviously plays on Forte's '99 notes préparatoires'-concept (as in his palindrome-piece -- and, more relevantly, 99 notes préparatoires aux 99 notes préparatoires) might suggest otherwise.
       Avant le polar doesn't quite lead by example, either, but it is more fully- (or at least significantly) fledged polar than polar-writing guide or scaffolding. 'Le Mystère de la chatte rasée' would make a nice title for the story, it's suggested (though the English translation would presumably be more ... delicate; 'The Mystery of the Shaved Pussy' might be rather too direct). Over 99 chapters -- notes -- here, there is a murder, a police investigation, and an inspector-protagonist -- Lieutenant Maussade (as Fournel also suggests the TV-series then could be eponymously titled). An attractive young teen, Clémentine, is found in a park, murdered. Maussade investigates, interrogates, and ruminates over his extensive notes; the conclusion isn't exactly the usual eureka- or gotcha-moment that's meant to satisfyingly conclude the crime-story, but there is sufficient closure, Fournel summing up what the resolution involves.
       The 'preparatory notes' -- the annotations, as it were, -- are mixed in with the action, as asides, tangents, or commentary. While connected to the story at hand, the observations are also generally relevant -- in the broadest sense -- to writing a crime novel, including such basics such as the question of selecting the name of the protagonist (why the name 'Maussade' for the hero here, for example ?). There's also more general advice and things to consider, from how to cast the possibly resulting TV series to the reminder not to forget the disclaimer that it's a work of fiction and any resemblance to real people is coincidental. (The book itself also includes such a disclaimer, though it is worded differently than the in-text example.) There are reminders that it's often advisable to conform to the familiar and favored genre-tropes, and also suggestions such as the option of "brutaliser la narration" through the use of an anonymous, unknown narrative voice that pops up to provide a different perspective (generally the criminal's). [Editorial aside: "brutaliser la narration", indeed -- while recognizing the validity of this narrative technique, I find it remains far too popular, widely and indiscriminately used (oh, those many italicized pages, interspersed in otherwise perfectly fine crime novels), and if there's one thing I wish crime writers would avoid wherever possible (i.e. usually), it would be this.]
       Of course, Avant le polar flirts with the metatextual, and writing and language figure significantly both in the story itself and in the guiding-parts. So also, it's no surprise that the dead girl, Clémentine, "était très fine en analyse des textes" ('was very good at literary analysis'), or that Maussade is an endless note-taker (and that he makes advances by going over his notes, over and over).
       Avant le polar may not be a straightforward how-to guide, but in reflecting -- even if largely only incidentally -- on the shaping, writing, and presentation of a crime story it does offer insight into the genre. It might also not quite offer the easier satisfactions of an actual polar -- but Fournel does this part quite well too, and it is an engaging little police investigation story. (It's also very short, for better and worse, so there's hardly time to tire of any of it.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 September 2017

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Avant le polar: Reviews: Paul Fournel: OuLiPo: Other books by Paul Fournel under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Paul Fournel was born in 1947. He is a member of Oulipo.

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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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