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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Monsieur Malaussène

Daniel Pennac

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To purchase Monsieur Malaussène

Title: Monsieur Malaussène
Author: Daniel Pennac
Genre: Novel
Written: 1995 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 426 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Monsieur Malaussène - US
Monsieur Malaussène - UK
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Monsieur Malaussène - Canada
Monsieur Malaussène - France
Monsieur Malaussène - Deutschland
Signor Malaussène - Italia
El señor Malaussène - España
  • French title: Monsieur Malaussène
  • Translated by Ian Monk

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Our Assessment:

B : fun and inventive, but long and convoluted

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 19/4/1997 Wolfgang Steuhl
TLS . 6/10/1995 Ruth Morse

  From the Reviews:
  • "Monsieur Malaussène zeigt, nach eher schleppendem und geschwätzigem Beginn, doch noch vieles von dem, was einen guten Romanausmacht; und das vielleicht gerade deshalb, weil seine tragenden Elemente eingerüttelt Maß an ironischer Übertreibung enthalten" - Wolfgang Steuhl, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "In addition to celebrating the detective story (...), he plays narrative games, bringing characters back to life and curing them of impossible wounds. He breaks the rules of narrative consistency at will. Pennac's detractors think of his work as ultimately sentimental. But what does one expect of a moral fabulist ?" - Ruth Morse, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Monsieur Malaussène is the most massive of Pennac's Belleville-novels. Obviously, it again features Benjamin Malaussène and his extended family, and not surprisingly Benjamin again finds himself at the centre of more complications than one could possibly imagine. As someone warns him -- not that it ever does any good --:

     "I can see a terrifying case in the offing, which will be in all the papers and you will be its epicentre. As usual, you will be perfectly innocent, but up to your neck in it."
       Up to his neck indeed: he winds up incarcerated, tried, and convicted -- and that's hardly the worst of it.
       Monsieur Malaussène is a surprisingly gruesome novel. Pennac is known for his comic touch, and there's a great deal that is funny, but some of this stuff is stomach-churning and revolting, notably the opening scene (a baby nailed to a door) as well the circumstances surrounding some pregnancy terminations. It does help matters slightly that it sooner or later generally turns out that almost nothing is ever quite what it seems (so also with the baby on the door and, at least, the most prominent abortion), but it still makes for a brutal cast to the generally very cheery book.
       The central crimes -- serial murder, complete (and apparently motivated by) tattoo-removals -- have no cheery twist: they're simply ugly and brutal, but that is easier to accept. Of course, Pennac doesn't leave it simply at that. Among the complicating matters are a disappearing (and reappearing) cinema and a film that is meant to be shown only once (which doesn't work out quite as planned -- but then what ever does in these novels ?).
       Needless to say, everything turns out for the best, though some of the twists and miracles it takes to get there strain all possible belief (a medical miracle, in particular) -- but then pretty much everything is meant to be over the top, and Pennac presents it such a likeable manner that one accepts it.
       The book is brimming with distinctive and quirky characters, with Pennac thrilling in the splendour and squalour (often, to him, one and the same) of his beloved Belleville district in Paris. The book moves in odd spurts, in short chapters heavy on dialogue and short-sentences. Pennac's style is often effective but not always clear; between the slang (nicely re-done in English by Ian Monk) and the complicated personalities and personal relationships it's more of a slog to get through than a thriller really should be. A long lead-up in this book (recapitulating some of the previous ones, getting the characters on stage) before things really get going also makes it a more unwieldy tome than need be.
       Enjoyable, but an odd comic-thriller, and not a quick, easy read.

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Monsieur Malaussène: Reviews: Daniel Pennac: Other books by Daniel Pennac under review: Other books under review of interest:

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About the Author:

       French author Daniel Pennac was born in Casablanca in 1944.

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© 2005-2018 the complete review

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