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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

In Concrete

Anne Garréta

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To purchase In Concrete

Title: In Concrete
Author: Anne Garréta
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 184 pages
Original in: French
Availability: In Concrete - US
In Concrete - UK
In Concrete - Canada
Dans l'béton - Canada
Dans l'béton - France
directly from: Deep Vellum
  • French title: Dans l'béton
  • Translated and with a Translator's Note by Emma Ramadan

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Our Assessment:

B : good fun and very playful

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Monde . 23/11/2017 Eric Loret
Publishers Weekly . 21/4/2021 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A)s with most work by Oulipo writers, what's important is what Garréta does with language, and Ramadan, winner of the PEN Translation Prize, makes each of the pages sing. Fans of experimental fiction will find this delightful." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       In Concrete is narrated by a young girl, nicknamed Fignole; she has a younger sister, nicknamed Poulette (her real name -- "the one she takes to school" -- is Angélique). Names are rarely fixed in this very fluid book -- of all of them, 'Poulette' is the most steadfast, appropriate enough for the situation the character finds herself in. As to others, identity only goes so deep, as the names barely matter: the family name is Oberkampf, for example -- taken from the métro station name --, and: "Our real name (the original, I mean) is lost", and:

     Everyone calls our father Philippe, or Phil for fun. Even the notary. Our mother, she calls him Jérôme, we don't know why. Sometimes she even calls him Daniel.
     So truly, we have no clue.
       No doubt influenced by her happy-go-lucky father who is always barreling ahead, damn the possible consequences, the narrator doesn't readily take to the conventional constraints of everyday life -- not least, school. Like dad, she tries not to let herself be hemmed in by reality; a free-wheeling imagination helps:
     I can even escape in the middle of the day now. I settle behind my desk and gallop silently in my head.
     My teachers all end up noticing sooner or later that I'm escaping in my head. They ask me, Are you in dreamland?!
     Yes, I'm dreaming. Of war and defective conjugations, of destructions, devastations, capitulations. I dig holes in grammar and I concoct escapes, scalings, resurrections, and descents into the sewers.
       The basic story recounted in In Concrete is a fairly simple one, the girls' father deciding: "soon as we were old enough, my little sis and I, to educate us in cement, concrete, and casing". Dad enjoys both big projects and tinkering, and the purchase of a concrete mixer -- "It was for his birthday, but it was a present for us, too" -- really gets him going, leading to a frenzy of concrete pouring:
We started working on big projects with our father on an industrial scale. We'd concrete every weekend in the countryside, even some of summer vacation too.
       At the outset, the narrator already suggests where this is going -- "You could sorta say, thanks to our precocious education, that my little sis fell into concrete as a young girl. Sorta" -- but she takes her time getting there. Still, with mishaps and dad's jury-rigged (attempts at ...) solutions the order of the day, it's unsurprising to find things going very, very wrong. So eventually the narrator finds herself walking onto a concrete floor, her shoes sinking in the concrete that hasn't yet set, and:
     If I want to move, I have to undo my laces and pull myself up by my bootstraps. But even then I can't really move. Concrete, spread and dried, entraps me, forms a shell around me, and when I struggle to extract myself I feel like a shrimp, a little gray shrimp.
       That's nothing compared to poor Poulette -- even if, in this state, her: "fate is nobler, and her posture intrinsically more dignified".
       Alarming though the situation is, the attempts to extricate Poulette from it proceed only slowly and semi-methodically. Meanwhile, the narrator reminisces, about other adventures they've enjoyed -- "Hey, Poulette, how bout I tell some stories ?" she suggests, while they're waiting.
       Language, in In Concrete, is anything but set in stone. The author, through her narrator, is constantly twisting it and playing with it. The narrator does claim:
     Make no mistake: when I concentrate, I have proper syntax and even spelling. But when there's too much rushing around and I have to tell it all in one go, it's too mush pressure, it bursts out of me, and then my gramma suffers.
       With the action here all rough and tumble, language constantly runs away with and from her. It ranges from basic punning -- "An authentic black hen that was eggzeptionally nice" -- to cascades of wordplay, such as:
     Fignole, that's my nickname.
     Fignole, Finiole, or Fignol.
     Like Guignol and his band.
     Not a bad nickname for someone who likes to finagle. It's a little tease that even skitters sometimes into Feignole. Somewhere between feign and mole, or a fig casserole, or a finicky gloriole -- careful, I said gloriole, not glory hole. The name's not Fagnole.
     The worst is when they call me Fanghole. Beware teeth down there !
       There is a narrative -- a basic story, and various stories around it -- to In Concrete, but language, and language-play really is at the fore here: Garréta basically never lets up. This is, of course, a great challenge in translation, but Emma Ramadan gamely plays along and follows suit as best she can. Naturally, the English has to sometimes veer off in other directions than the original French, but overall the translations seems very true to the exuberant spirit and tone of the original. In her translator's-note appendix, Ramadan usefully describes her approach and some of her choices, an always welcome insight into the translation-process.
       If all wrapped up in language-play, In Concrete nevertheless also addresses other things, in episodes such as the sisters' grand war-games as well as the father's various well-meaning but often way over his head endeavors. (As if the projects at hand weren't enough, there's an unlikely inheritance he lucks (?) into which of course just presents more opportunity to mess with .....) The girls adore their father and his ways, but there are downsides -- even aside from what befalls Poulette:
     But an apocalypse with no system is just a guaranteed scatastrophe.
     You have only to watch our father in action to understand the last two centuries of France's military disasters, our grandpa declares. Berezina, Sedan, Bazeilles, the Marne, Verdun, and all those wars lost because of battles won in a magnificent surge and all those lamentable triumphs.
     All those debacles, those victories that bleed and exhaust us.
       Garréta's child-narrator presents the story in an appropriately childish way: unfocused, ranging far and wide, easily distracted by wordplay. It's mostly quite amusing, though the relentless wordplay can come to feel both occasionally forced and wearing. Still, In Concrete is certainly always very lively -- if often in the way of the gush of an over-excited tween trying to say too much at once -- and often quite clever and funny.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 August 2021

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In Concrete: Reviews: Anne Garréta: Other books by Anne Garréta under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Anne Garréta was born in 1962. She is a member of the Oulipo.

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© 2021 the complete review

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