Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



In association with Amazon.it - Italia

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Eléctrico W

Hervé Le Tellier

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Eléctrico W

Title: Eléctrico W
Author: Hervé Le Tellier
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 256 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Eléctrico W - US
Eléctrico W - UK
Eléctrico W - Canada
Eléctrico W - Canada (French)
Eléctrico W - India
Eléctrico W - France
Neun Tage in Lissabon - Deutschland
  • French title: Eléctrico W
  • Translated by Adriana Hunter

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : appealing, and nicely presented -- but layers a bit much underneath

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 1/9/2013 Alison McCulloch
Publishers Weekly A- 29/4/2013 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Le Tellier likes wrapping stories inside stories, with yet more of them spilling out in unexpected places." - Alison McCulloch, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Romantic and atmospheric, this novel also benefits from a particularly fine sense of place and time. (...) Dealing with so many characters sometimes gives the book a cobbled-together feel, but also makes it lively and fleet." - 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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Eléctrico W is narrated by Vincent Balmer, recounting events of 1985, when he had just recently moved from Paris to Lisbon (after his father's suicide and a failed love affair). The Portuguese correspondent for his French newspaper, he got an assignment to cover what promised to be a sensational serial-killer's trial, working together with Antonio, who is sent to Lisbon to provide the photographs and illustrations. As it turns out, the murder trial barely figures in the story; instead, the novel is a ronde of sorts: nine chapters, covering nine days, each focused on one of the characters and Vincent's interactions with them, beginning with Antonio and circling finally to Vincent himself; a present-day Epilogue offers a quick summary of what became of everyone, more than a quarter of a century later.
       Vincent learns shortly after Antonio's arrival that he is involved with, Irene, the woman who broke his heart. To cover his own deep but complicated feelings for Irene, Victor invents a local girlfriend -- and is eventually forced to involve another woman to play the role when Irene comes to Lisbon to be with Antonio. Antonio also nurses a broken heart, and he recounts his own tale of adolescent love and loss, as he was separated from a girl named 'Duck' right here in Lisbon (where he grew up) years earlier. Victor and Antonio also encounter a talented local girl, who sets her sights on Antonio.
       Victor is intrigued by Antonio's tale of lost love and looks into whether or not he can find Duck and what became of her. He also has a couple of other projects going on: he's working on a novel about Pescheux d'Herbinville -- the man who (may have) killed the brilliant mathematician Évariste Galois in a duel (when Galois was just twenty) -- and he's translating a collection of the very short stories of (the fictional Portuguese author) Jaime Montestrela, Contos aquosos. He and Antonio also do look into the serial-killer case, but both the accused and the trial are presented as almost entirely pedestrian (save for the odd fact that the murderer wore an odd (and heavy) bronze chain mail coat under his clothes).
       Victor's novel -- not progressing very quickly -- also has to do with murder; tellingly, he chose a protagonist like Pescheux d'Herbinville, about whom he writes:

It was not Stéphanie's lover he had challenged to a duel, it was the living reflection of his own powerlessness to be loved.
       It is this that draws Victor to the material, as it is also his own problem: surrounded by stories and displays of passion and lust throughout Eléctrico W, Victor finds himself arousing little more than curiosity in others.
       Le Tellier is a member of Oulipo, and so it comes as no surprise that there's more than just the simple narrative here. The nine-day structure already has an Oulipian feel -- and leans on, for example, The Odyssey, in its unfolding. Yet even the day-by-day chronological presentation is explained as an almost arbitrary one: in his Epilogue Victor claims he has finally rearranged the chapters "which, until now, were in an arbitrary order" (suggesting that, at least in the original concept, chronology was no more significant than any other connections between the chapters).
       It's also no surprise that Victor's novel is in part about a mathematician -- and number-play certainly features in the text, too, beginning with a Prologue that concludes:
     This paragraph is added in because, according to the computer, the manuscript comprised 53,278 words. I wanted it to be a prime number. Out of some superstition. So I added an adjective here, and adverb there, I don't even remember where.
       (He could have made it easier on himself: 53,278 isn't a prime number, but 53,279 is .....)
       More Oulipian yet, from the sound (and numerous examples) of it are Jaime Montestrela's Contos aquosos -- 1073 short stories. ("It's a strange number", Victor says, but 1073 isn't a prime .....) Amusingly, this fictional work does now exist in a French translation -- by, of course, Hervé Le Tellier: Contes liquides, published by Éditions de l'attente.
       There are even the overt nods to fellow Oulipians -- notably, in closing, mention of the death of Italo Calvino.
       The layers and (occasionally too-)sly hints can feel a bit forced in places, but overall Eléctrico W is quite successful. A piece-meal story that shifts around these many characters (along with a very busy and rather meddling Victor) it can't unfold entirely smoothly, but Le Tellier is good enough a storyteller that he easily holds the reader's attention with his various episodes (and curiosity about where he's going with all this). "I would rewrite fate, I would be their fate", Victor enthuses at one point, and his efforts -- a constant re-writing, not only of the fates of some of the other characters, but of his own past and present, as well as in efforts such as his translation of the Montestrela-pieces -- make for a surprisingly entertaining tale. (One thing that doesn't quite work is the murder-trial: the promise that the nickname the 'Mad Killer of Lisbon' holds falls far short, and so this element always feels a bit off throughout the novel (despite some interesting aspects, like that chain mail outfit).)
       One of the characters recites Fernando Pessoa's 'Autopsicografia' ('Autopsychography'), which begins:
The poet is a faker
Who's so good at his act
He even fakes the pain
Of pain he feels in fact.
       It clearly speaks to (and of) Victor, who wallows a bit in his own fakery but still manages to be an agreeably convincing voice. Yes, Le Tellier can lay it on a bit thick -- looking with hindsight at the manuscript from more than a quarter of a century ago the now sixty-five year old man is literally going blind ... -- but overall the playfulness works very nicely.
       An enjoyable and even affecting not-quite-romantic read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 June 2013

- Return to top of the page -


Eléctrico W: Reviews: OuLiPo: Other books by Hervé Le Tellier under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

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

- Return to top of the page -

© 2013-2022 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links