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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Nothing Serious

Justine Lévy

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To purchase Nothing Serious

Title: Nothing Serious
Author: Justine Lévy
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 220 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Nothing Serious - US
Nothing Serious - UK
Nothing Serious - Canada
Rien de grave - Canada
Rien de grave - France
Nicht so tragisch - Deutschland
  • French title: Rien de grave
  • Translated by Charlotte Mandell

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Our Assessment:

B : odd soul being searched, but intermittently compelling

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 23/1/2006 Helen Greenwood
FAZ . 5/9/2005 Ingeborg Harms
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 30/8/2005 Barbara Villiger Heilig
The NY Times Book Rev. . 23/10/2005 Judith Warner
San Francisco Chronicle A 16/10/2005 Christine Thomas

  From the Reviews:
  • "The clues in this lightly disguised roman a clef are too obvious -- and too delicious -- to ignore. (...) Levy's short book is written in a fragmented, stream-of-consciousness voice that is poignant and literary but can also sound like a therapy session." - Helen Greenwood, The Age

  • "Das einzige Kind, das wirklich bedauert wird, ist Louise selbst. Von den eigenen GemŘtserschütterungen bleibt sie so restlos fasziniert wie eine Dreijährige von ihren Schürfwunden (.....) Zum Schluß bleibt der schale Eindruck, daß die literarische Plattform ein weiteres Mal gekapert wurde, um Medienprominenz zu ertrotzen. Der Rachefeldzug geht auf Kosten der lieben Verwandten, doch die scheinen das gewohnt zu sein." - Ingeborg Harms, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Nothing Serious, judged solely on its literary value, is nothing much -- a repetitive, tiresome and stillborn exercice du style that reads, for the most part, like a doctored-up diary. (...) Skim the long, depressed passages, with their many variations on the theme of emptiness (translated, with all too much accuracy, by Charlotte Mandell) and focus instead on Lévy's intermittent moments of grace (.....) There is a deliciousness to this vapidity. If only Nothing Serious had taken itself less seriously, it could have been a delight." - Judith Warner, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Belying the title, this barely disguised roman a clef is nothing but serious -- a candid and raw portrayal of a woman's insecurities and failings that is as compelling as her life is disastrous. (...) Levy's second novel is clever and complete, offering a smartly seductive look inside the lives of the literati." - Christine Thomas, San Francisco Chronicle

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:

       Like The Rendezvous, Nothing Serious is narrated by a young woman named Louise (here also identified as having the last name "Lévy") who has a mother named Alice. Where The Rendezvous is told by a young woman (eighteen years old at the time) and focusses on her childhood, Nothing Serious examines the next decade or so, Louise -- now in her late twenties -- reflecting on her years as an adult. She's been married -- and is now divorced --, pregnant, and in rehab, but whereas The Rendezvous had an easily identifiable (and blameable) villain in Alice, the adult Louise has contributed mightily to the mess she's made of her life. (Alice has been rendered almost harmless here -- the gods have punished her with a vengeance, and Louise seems to have come to terms with her.)
       For Louise, the defining relationship of the past decade or so has been with Adrien, the man she married and then lost (to his own father's lover ...). The novel does not proceed chronologically, but rather reveals the significant events of these past ten or so years in drips and drabs, as Louise revisits and reexamines what has happened. The loss of Adrien was a brutal blow for her; the substitute lover she has taken, the very nice (and surprisingly understanding) Pablo, is a man she almost doesn't want to love. She explains herself, and her life -- one screwed up young woman trying to come to terms with her life.
       Louise takes an almost perverse pride in her non-being. She's not entirely the wallflower, blending in with the background, but she almost strives to be unformed and unidentifiable. She doesn't want to have that badge of womanhood, her period, and she sounds almost proud to acknowledge:

     I don't have any likes. No dislikes either, really. I know what's done and what's not done, I know the ins and outs, but that leaves room for leeway, massive room, and inside me too there's massive room and that's why it's empty, there's nothing there and I'm still waiting.
       She is, admittedly, waiting for her likes and dislikes to come back, "like a lost appetite, or sleep for an insomniac", but her passivity in this and most regards (she's waiting -- as in The Rendezvous -- rather than actually doing something about it) can be enervating.
       In describing coming to terms with her feelings towards Adrien and their failed love, as well as her uneasy relationship with the adoring Pablo, Louise's story occasionally is quite compelling. Revelations about her descent into amphetamine-addiction, as well as her ridiculous pregnancy (she fails to consider the possibility that she might be expecting until she's five months along) are less interesting, as she veers dangerously in the direction of becoming a mini-Alice.
       Nothing Serious is a story of resignation: Louise wanted Adrien, but couldn't have him, and now she's resigned to making do. It's an odd and not particularly attractive philosophy -- though it may well ring true. Louise's unwillingness to be guided by anything, it generally seems, except her feelings at the moment also make her a frustrating and unsympathetic protagonist.
       Lévy is no Annie Ernaux (who has this routine down pat), but covers similar ground. Terribly self-absorbed, there's at least more nuance and depth than in much of the (often also far more sexually obsessed) confessional literature of the day. And Lévy does have some sense of style and presentation: it's a fairly well-constructed and presented story. Louise is moderately interesting, in her distinctly unglamorous way, but Lévy is perhaps too close to her subject to really pull it off successfully.

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Nothing Serious: Reviews: Other books by Justine Lévy under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Justine Lévy is an editor at Editions Stock.

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© 2005-2021 the complete review

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