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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Thousand Pearls
(for a Thousand Pennies)

Hervé Le Tellier

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To purchase A Thousand Pearls<br>(for a Thousand Pennies)

Title: A Thousand Pearls (for a Thousand Pennies)
Author: Hervé Le Tellier
Genre: Fiction
Written: 1997 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 175 pages
Original in: French
Availability: A Thousand Pearls (for a Thousand Pennies) - US
A Thousand Pearls (for a Thousand Pennies) - UK
A Thousand Pearls (for a Thousand Pennies) - Canada
Les amnésiques n'ont rien vécu d'inoubliable - Canada
A Thousand Pearls (for a Thousand Pennies) - India
Les amnésiques n'ont rien vécu d'inoubliable - France
  • French title: Les amnésiques n'ont rien vécu d'inoubliable
  • Translated by Ian Monk

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Our Assessment:

B+ : enjoyable odds and ends

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       A Thousand Pearls (for a Thousand Pennies) offers a thousand responses to the question that, in the original French, was: "À quoi tu penses ?" -- translated here as "Penny for them ?" The English works better in the larger context (as in: a penny for your thoughts) than simply as the constantly repeated prod, but it serves its purpose, and each "Penny for them ?" is then answered by a brief observation that begins: "I was thinking ...".
       If not quite the pearls of wisdom also suggested by the English title, Le Tellier's responses of what's on his mind at this and that and a thousand moments do make for fine entertainment. Like Georges Perec's Je me souviens -- and Joe Brainard's I Remember, and David Markson's later novels (Reader's Block and the like) -- Le Tellier's answers make for a personal collection of stray thoughts and reflections, on life and love and growing old (and bald), among other things. Less focused on memory and past, Le Tellier's observations do come from a personal perspective, as he often focuses on his own behavior and experiences, but are also often universal -- halfway between the Perec and the Marksons, more or less.
       Le Tellier's responses do include the surprisingly banal :

I was thinking how amazing it is that whichever lane you're in on the highway, it's always the one that advances most slowly.
       There are also off-beat insights:
I was thinking that a zebra is an okapi who's made it.
       And the occasional cleverly turned observation:
I was thinking that there's no name on the tomb of the unknown soldier, but there's one on the tomb of each unknown writer.
       Many of the thoughts are about growing old and his relationship(s) with women; and a 'you' he responds to figures in some but far from all the answers, too.
       There's the occasional self-referential response -- including:
I was thinking that your constant, irritating questions are starting to piss me off.
       And the honest (self-)evaluation:
I was thinking that it's certainly not with a book like this that I'll win the Prix Goncourt.
       With a thousand answers, to the same incessant question (with just one minor variation, for the final iteration), A Thousand Pearls (for a Thousand Pennies) turns out to be surprisingly revealing. The many small bits do add up -- not the way they might in a leading questionnaire, but this same demand, repeated over and over as in some psychoanalytical ritual, does also yield a larger picture. It's also really quite entertaining -- Le Tellier's thoughts are hardly all insightful aperçus, but between the clever bits and the honest admissions it's an engaging book to either dip in or to read straight through.
       There are nods to several Oulipians, and a variety of layers to this text, too -- as Le Tellier also reminds readers in wondering:
I was thinking that I'm not quite sure if this text, which obeys at least one constraint, mentions that constraint, in conformity with Roubaud's principle.
       But it can easily be enjoyed just for what it is, and certainly makes for good entertainment.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 July 2011

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A Thousand Pearls (for a Thousand Pennies): OuLiPo: Other books by Hervé Le Tellier under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Hervé Le Tellier was born in 1957. He is a member of the Oulipo.

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