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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Life is Short
and Desire Endless

Patrick Lapeyre

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To purchase Life is Short and Desire Endless

Title: Life is Short and Desire Endless
Author: Patrick Lapeyre
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 331 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Life is Short and Desire Endless - US
Life is Short and Desire Endless - UK
Life is Short and Desire Endless - Canada
La vie est brève et le désir sans fin - Canada
Life is Short and Desire Endless - India
La vie est brève et le désir sans fin - France
Das Leben ist kurz und voller Begierden - Deutschland
La vita è breve e il desiderio infinito - Italia
  • French title: La vie est brève et le désir sans fin
  • Translated by Adriana Hunter
  • Prix Femina, 2010

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Our Assessment:

B : the tone quirky enough to make this breezy tale of an odd love-triangle intriguing enough

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Magazine Littéraire . 1/9/2010 Jean-Baptiste Harang
The NY Times Book Rev. . 19/8/2012 Alison McCulloch
Publishers Weekly . 16/4/2012 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mais rien de tout cela ne dit le livre de Patrick Lapeyre, ses méandres et ses inventions, et le pas de côté de chaque phrase qui tient le lecteur à l’écart du mélo, du pathos, de la caricature boboïsante des situations, distance de l’humour chagrin qui n’abolit pas pourtant le chagrin d’amour" - Jean-Baptiste Harang, Magazine Littéraire

  • "It’s hard to understand what keeps these men hanging on so tenaciously -- and even harder to quell the desire to slap them both upside the head. Which is the point, of course." - Alison McCulloch, The New York Times Book Review

  • "An appealing oddness of language elevates Lapeyre’s English-language debut above the standard love triangle story. (...) With the exception of a postmodern turn late in the narrative, Lapeyre’s novel, winner of the 2010 Prix Femina, engaging though it is, won’t take readers anywhere they haven’t been before." - 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:

       Life is Short and Desire Endless centers on two men who are both obsessed by the flighty Nora. One is Murphy Blomdale, who works in financial services in London and is: "one hundred percent American, both austere and hyperactive", the other is Louis Blériot-Ringuet, a freelance translator living in Paris who is not very happily married to the considerably more successful Sabine. Nora flits between the two of them -- and others (they aren't the only men in her life), a capricious young woman who knows (and uses) the power she exerts but doesn't seem to know what she wants to do or make of her life (or is at least constantly changing her mind about that).
       As one character notes:

Nora always aroused dreams of a Jules and Jim type solidarity around her, in girls just as much as boys. Which is a bit weird.
       Whether naïf or manipulator, Nora certainly manages to string the two along, repeatedly (re)appearing in their lives only just as suddenly to take flight again.
       Typically, when Murphy pleads:
     "Incidentally, I wish you'd tell me once and for all if I should go on waiting for you or if I'd do better to get on with my suffering and move on, like a big boy."
     "I didn't say we won't see each other again," she says gently, "I said that, right now, I'm staying in Paris because I've got loads of things to do here and I'm not free much."
       Yes, she certainly likes to keep her options open and available .....
       Nora lives mostly in the moment; among the things she doesn't like talking about are the other people in their lives, preferring to focus entirely on the here and now -- until she's had enough of it and abruptly moves on. Nevertheless, Murphy and Louis are aware of each others' existence, and role in her life; eventually they even meet.
       Nora remains an elusive figure -- and not just for the two protagonists vying for her attention but also for the reader. That's somewhat problematic: it's difficult to see exactly why she is able to exert such a powerful hold on these men. Lapeyre does fill in lots of background, and much of the novel centers on the lives of the two men when Nora is not part of it -- Louis is having trouble with both his parents and his wife, for example -- but then there always come the points where: there she is again.
       The novel is focused on how Nora affects the two men's lives. Even in her inconstancy, she is something of a constant -- an ideal, an aspiration -- and as eventually smaller and larger parts of their lives come crashing down around them (family, in the case of Louis; business, in the case of Murphy) they still look towards Nora to orient themselves, in a way -- even as it is Nora that ultimately goes through the most radical transformation.
       Lapeyre lets the scenario play out, but can't commit entirely: by the final pages he's trying to have it not just both but all ways, suggesting worlds of possibilities ..... It's a reasonable enough conclusion: life is short, after all, but desire and its variations endless, so why not acknowledge that ?
       Nevertheless, what plagues the novel is a sense of vagueness: even as Lapeyre offers so much detail there's too little follow-through. He skims the relationship-surfaces -- of all the characters, not just the odd love-triangle at the heart of the novel -- and rarely manages much depth. Most obviously, Nora remains simply an inadequate character -- and Murphy, too, feels very thin -- which leaves the novel very much about the saddest sack, Louis.
       Still, Lapeyre's easy-going and slightly off-kilter presentation, with its constant but not too awkward transitions back and forth -- both in time and locales -- is quite appealing, and makes Life is Short and Desire Endless a fairly enjoyable pass-time read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 May 2012

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Life is Short and Desire Endless: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Patrick Lapeyre was born in 1949.

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© 2012-2021 the complete review

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