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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Document 1

François Blais

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To purchase Document 1

Title: Document 1
Author: François Blais
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 167 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Document 1 - US
Document 1 - UK
Document 1 - Canada
Document 1 - Canada (French)
Document 1 - France
  • French title: Document 1
  • Translated by J.C.Sutcliffe

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Our Assessment:

B : good playful fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Devoir . 4/8/2012 Christian Desmeules

  From the Reviews:
  • "Avec ses personnages autosuffisants et cyniques, son feu d’artifice de digressions gratuites qui carburent à l’érudition 2.0, son suspense léger, inutile de souligner que l’ironie suinte de partout dans Document 1, et en particulier, on le devine, lorsqu’il est question d’écriture et de conseils d’écriture." - Christian Desmeules, Le Devoir

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:

       Document 1 is the story of Tess and Jude, Québécois slackers who live in the small city of Grand-Mère and have one great ambition: "all we want to do is go and spend a month in Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. [Yes, these are both actual places.] They're both in their early thirties, Jude living off of welfare, Tess gainfully but limitedly ("twenty five hours [per week] is the upper limit of what I can stand") employed at a local Subway® outlet.
       They are very set in their very limited ways -- with no regrets, but certainly aware of their limitations. Tess admits

We've never accomplished anything, never been anywhere, and the smallest change in our routine pushes us to the brink of despair.
       But they do have this one grand ambition: they've really set their sights on Bird-in-Hand. It's not too far, so it seems manageable ..... But with their limited income they don't know how to raise the funds to finance the trip. Saving up is unrealistic -- there's not enough coming in, and they're also not very good at saving anything when a bit extra is at hand -- so they need to cash in, somehow or other. Fortunately, this is Canada, where the Canada Council for the Arts offers grants for, say, a literary project, like a novel about taking a trip to Bird-in-Hand ..... True, there are some minimum requirements, but if they can find a front man who is an established (or at least published) author, they might have a shot. And fortunately one of Tess' customers, Sébastien Daoust, who has a crush on her, is willing to submit their application in their name.
       So Document 1 is basically the book they (well, mostly Tess) writes to get the arts grant (and, yes, this book does note on the copyright page that: "The production of this book was made possible through the generous assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council".
       The working title is 'Document 1', because that's how Microsoft Word labels it when Tess first creates the document; Tess was certain that they'd come up with something better too: typical of her optimism (and forgetting the essential nature of the pair of them) she writes with (misplaced) confidence:
Dear reader, as you have in your hands the finished product, with a beautiful cover, a beautiful ISBN number, an gushing thanks to the Arts Council, you must already know the title we chose. Admit it, it's a pretty impressive title ! I have no idea what it will be, but I know we'll find something spectacular. I have faith in us.
       Tess does take the writing exercise pretty seriously. She researches how best to go about something like this, including looking into various potential publishers (a handy quick guide to French Québécois publishers (complete with website URLs), including the one this book was originally published by, L'Instant Même). In particular, she relies on her chosen guide -- her Yoda --, taking tips from bestselling author Marc Fisher's books of advice for authors.
       Among Fisher's observations are ones about story being more important than style:
the "public pays no heed to style. Yes, they want a certain level of accuracy, but apart from that they really only care about the story." And he carries on with his sledgehammer argument: to have any hope of living by one's pen, a Quebec writer has to target the international market, and that style can't survive translation. Under such conditions, the best thing is to aim for an "invisible" style, which fades into the background to allow the characters and events to take centre stage.
       Writing in the first person, Tess is very much center stage throughout the book -- with even the brief section where Jude takes over the writing duties including her parenthetical comments -- but she plays a lot with style and voice, often directly addressing the reader, and trying any number of approaches -- including, at one point, trying to provide more character-insight into herself by reproducing the answers to an online questionnaire (without providing the actual questions (though most can be guessed -- and Jude then takes the same questionnaire and does offer the key, for anyone who wants to go back and double-check)).
       Tess does amuse herself with surfing the web -- looking up odd place names, among other things -- but she and Jude are domestic creatures. Still, the project is horizon-expanding -- and when frontman Sébastien Daoust actually fronts them some of their potential grant-money winnings they actually go ahead with some of the necessary steps to undertaking their big road trip, such as renewing their drivers licenses and buying a car. (They do ask for someone's help in selecting a car to purchase, so they won't get ripped off; typically, however, they disregard the advice and buy a clunker.) They outfit themselves, and start making small local trips, exploring the nearer area -- quite a change for them. For a while it looks like they really are building sensibly up to their big trip .....
       Another step in the plan requires asking Tess' sister for a favor, for when they are away. The sister doesn't mind agreeing -- convinced she'll never actually be called upon to do this, telling Tess:
You won't go on a trip to Pennsylvania, or anywhere else, and you won't to anything else either. How could I say such a thing ? Jude or you on your own would be a millstone for anyone, but together you're like two millstones joined together, get it ?
       Generally, things go reasonably well for Tess and Jude. The planning for the trip, and the writing of the book, and even some of what results from all this activity. They do make poor choices however, which sort of limits the possibility of greater success -- but for all their personal failings and failures, they remain a cheerful and quite happy-with-their-lot pair.
       It makes for an amusing little tale, zippily told in short, varied chapters that also play with the possibilities of fiction -- Tess pleased to discover there's even a name for some of what she's doing ("Do you know what you call it when an author talks about the book she's writing in her book ? A mise-en-abyme. Truly there's a word for everything."). Appropriately enough, like impulsive Tess the story is a bit laid back and slack; it helps, however, that despite their lack of ambition Tess and Jude aren't entirely vacuous (Tess has a good sense of the local literary scene, and even if Jude prefers playing on his Xbox 360 they both read and appreciate at least some serious literature). Tess' cheeky tone and approach are quite winning, and Document 1 is good, quick, light fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 July 2018

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Document 1: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Canadian author François Blais was born in 1973.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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