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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Theory of Clouds

Stéphane Audeguy

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Title: The Theory of Clouds
Author: Stéphane Audeguy
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 266 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Theory of Clouds - US
The Theory of Clouds - UK
The Theory of Clouds - Canada
La théorie des nuages - Canada
La théorie des nuages - France
Der Herr der Wolken - Deutschland
  • French title: La théorie des nuages
  • Translated by Timothy Bent

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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertainingly spun-out stories, even if it doesn't all entirely fit together

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ B 22/5/2006 Hardy Reich
The Washington Post . 7/10/2007 Ron Charles

  From the Reviews:
  • "Problematischer ist die Rahmenhandlung um Akira Kumo und Virginie Latour. Während letztere, obwohl auch ihr Privatleben thematisiert wird, im Grunde nur die Funktion hat, sich Wolkengeschichten erzählen zu lassen, verbindet sich mit dem Modeschöpfer ein Handlungsstrang, der im Wortsinn den Rahmen sprengt. (…) Was das Buch zusammenhält, ist ein konsequent durchgehaltener Tonfall, eine Mischung aus sachlich-nüchternem Bericht und märchenhafter Fabulierlust. Erzählt wird im Präsens, bei völligem Verzicht auf wörtliche Rede. (…) Der Herr der Wolken erweist sich zwar als durchaus lesenswertes Romandebüt, läßt sich aber kaum so hoch oben verorten, wie es dem zweifellos großen Ehrgeiz seines Verfassers entspricht." - Hardy Reich, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(E)qually buoyant and weighty, and puts one in the mood for reverie. (…) (I)t's an amorphous story, alternately static and turbulent, a subtle mixture of history and fiction, tragedy and comedy, that's likely to look like something different to everyone who reads it. (…) Weird ? Definitely. But Audeguy is doing something oddly alluring, even if you're not French. (…) All the characters in The Theory of Clouds remain distant, emotionally impenetrable in a way that seems downright un-American, but nonetheless their elliptical stories are enchanting, the way they drift into one another, growing less coherent and more absurd." - Ron Charles, The Washington Post

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 Theory of Clouds is anchored in the present, where a young French librarian, Virginie Latour, is hired by a famous Japanese fashion designer, Akira Kumo, to catalogue his book-collection. It's not so much a rare- of fine-book collection; rather:

What made the collection exemplary was that it contained every single work devoted to clouds and more generally to meteorology written over the course of the last three centuries, in every language Kumo could read -- Japanese, German, English, and French.
       Yes, Kumo is fascinated by clouds (and meteorology in general), and when he and Virginie are together he's also in no great rush to get the cataloguing done, telling her the stories of several of the historical figures in the field. He's especially attracted to those who have fallen into obscurity: Luke Howard, the real figure that first proposed the now commonly used names for clouds, a painter named Carmichael, who tried to capture clouds in his pictures, and finally the mysterious Richard Abercrombie, whose Abercrombie Protocol -- of which only the one, original copy exists -- is one of the most eagerly sought after pieces in the field (and something that Kumo very much wants to get his hands on).
       The life stories of these men -- the Quaker Howard, the painter, and the obsessive Abercrombie, who travels far and wide in his quest -- are interspersed with scenes from the present, and these three variations on the variously cloud-obsessed men are entertaining and nicely told, creative trips that present a bit of history and especially the role of weather in it (from Napoleon's misjudgements to the spread of attempts to forecast the weather (and everything that was on the line, based on those forecasts)).
       As interesting is the story of Kumo himself, a wealthy and very private man who was apparently born in Hiroshima in 1946. In fact, the facts about his background turn out not to be that accurate; Kumo re-invented himself in Japan in his youth (helped, in part, by the fact that he always looked younger than his age), but all this history -- he was from Hiroshima -- does weigh on him as well.
       A relationship of sorts develops between Kumo and Virginie, though it is more one of mentor and protégé. But he changes her life -- as does she his, if perhaps less obviously.
       The Abercrombie Protocol isn't exactly the last piece in the puzzle, but its secrets are eventually also revealed -- and that's a pretty good story too, and offers an interesting notion of how to get at this particular truth.
       Enjoyable as the life-stories are, and despite the cloudish-connexion among them, they don't exactly neatly fit together. Remarkably, it hardly matters: Audeguy tells a good tale, and he tells several of them here, and somehow that's entirely adequate. Surprisingly, also, in a novel that's filled with so much death and brutality -- the three (more or less) 19th-century figures obviously are all dead, but several of the contemporary characters die too, and then there are those major, often weather-related catastrophes (Napoleon's failures in the field, Krakatoa, Hiroshima) as well as quite a few minor ones (ships going out to sea based on bad weather forecasts ...) -- it really feels quite cheerful. In part this is probably because it all is a sort of stepping-stone for Virginie, who does quite well in all of this and doesn't wonder too much how she lucked into it and can now get on with her life (much as Kumo also comes to terms with his life in this time).
       The Theory of Clouds is a strangely plotted novel, but it is a very agreeable read, and between the general atmosphere Audeguy conjures up (as well as some of the very dark clouds he lets pass through), and the meteorological trivia sprinkled throughout it adds up to something ineffable and yet also very satisfying -- and is certainly entertaining throughout.

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The Theory of Clouds: Reviews: Luke Howard: Other books by Stéphane Audeguy under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Stéphane Audeguy was born in 1964.

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© 2007-2021 the complete review

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