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Yasmina Reza

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To purchase Desolation

Title: Desolation
Author: Yasmina Reza
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2002)
Length: 136 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Desolation
Desolation - UK
Desolation - Canada
Une désolation - Canada
Une désolation - France
Eine Verzweiflung - Deutschland
  • French title: Une désolation
  • Translated by Carol Brown Janeway

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Our Assessment:

B : often compelling, though odd presentation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express A 19/8/1999 Martine de Rabaudy
The Guardian . 14/12/2002 Rachel Aspden
The LA Times . 23/9/2002 Merle Rubin
The NY Times Book Rev. . 6/10/2002 David Finkle
Salon A 10/10/2002 Suzy Hansen
San Francisco Chronicle C- 27/10/2002 Robert Hurwitt
Sunday Telegraph A 1/12/2002 George Walden
TLS A 10/1/2003 Claire Harman
Die Zeit A (21/2001) Gabriele Killert

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ce thème nihiliste inspire à Yasmina Reza des variations sur le cynisme et la dérision, qu'elle exécute avec une virtuosité rattrapée parfois par son naturel d'auteur dramatique." - Martine de Rabaudy, L'Express

  • "Desolation is elevated above amusing grousing by Reza's sensitivity to the quiet lonelinesses and desperations of a life." - Rachel Aspden, The Guardian

  • "Desolation is not a long book, objectively considered. Nor, despite its repetition and narrow range of focus, does it seem unduly long. Reza manages to hold our attention, draw us into her protagonist's consciousness and keep us interested and agitated. But one feels, in some respects, that it is still more a stage piece than a novel (.....) Desolation provides a stark yet bleakly comic look at the limitations and solitude inherent in the human condition." - Merle Rubin, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Pinning Samuel and the others to the page is Reza's chief talent: she has an easy understanding of just how amusing men can be when free-floating anxiety and frustration overwhelm them. (...) (I)f Desolation isn't a completely satisfying novel, it could, like Reza's plays, be ebullient boulevard theater." - David Finkle, The New York Times Book Review

  • "While reading someone's unfettered complaining might sound like about as much fun as sticking needles in your eye, Reza's narrator is someone you want to listen to, and not only because he's often deliciously wicked." - Suzy Hansen, Salon

  • "The further one reads, the more tiresome his voice becomes. It's as if Reza were exploring a character she finds fascinating but hasn't yet figured out how to put onstage." - Robert Hurwitt, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Imagine a talking head 100 times wittier, wiser and truer to life than any of Alan Bennett's tiresomely quirky confections, and you get an idea of the quality of the writing and characterisation in Desolation." - George Walden, Sunday Telegraph

  • "(I)t comes to us in translation; but even in this filtered form it presents a compelling and sophisticated study of age and rage. (...) The stories that emerge in Desolation's extended soliloquy are small triumphs of existential comedy " - Claire Harman, 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:

       Yasmina Reza is best known as a dramatist, but she has tried her hand at prose as well. There is the book of reminiscences, Hammerklavier (see our review), and now there is this novella.
       Despite turning to prose, some habits apparently die hard, and Desolation has an odd, stagey feel to it. It is a bit on the long side, but otherwise could largely even pass for a drama: it is, essentially, simply an extended monologue.
       The narrator, Samuel, is a retired father of two. His main audience seems to be his thirty-eight year old son, a man who has taken a completely different and very idle path, travelling and seeing the world, not trying to accomplish anything specific, unwilling to settle down. Samuel addresses this wayward son, trying to understand him, to explain himself, and trying, perhaps, to get him to change his ways. (The monologue also seems to be wishful thinking: the son appears to be literally absent; certainly he never gets his say.)
       Samuel can't understand his son's happiness (or, it seems, anyone else's: his own wife's irrepressible happiness also gets on his nerves ("the woman is so upbeat, it's a nightmare")). Samuel never found such contentment and even as he now tends his gardens (in best Voltairean fashion) he prefers to complain of dissatisfaction and the occasional despair. Always eager for change -- "as soon as I settled on a self, I had to undo that self again" -- he isn't happy in his old, sedentary skin. But his son's form of escape also doesn't tempt him.
       Women, women were always a temptation, and it is a woman that livens things up in the book, as he comes across old acquaintance Genevieve and relates an encounter with her, dredging up the past and old memories. The monologue-form is hard pressed to contain the encounters (further burdened when memories are recounted, making for dialogues within dialogues within the monologue), but in this interaction with others -- described and recalled -- the character takes on a more definite shape. Still, it feels almost artificial, and the better parts of the book are Samuel's solo-rants, perhaps also simply because they sound more convincing than the layered-within-layers stories around Genevieve.
       Samuel also has other women-tales to tell -- about his mistress, about his wife and daughter. He is a malcontent -- but it's clear too that in a way he thrives on that malcontentment, that it is one of the things that keeps him going, even as he despairs.
       Samuel is a decent figure, and he gets in some nice shots, but the book does not work all that well as a novel, form not quite adequate for this content. If Reza had stuck to the ranting monologue, pure and simple, or fleshed everything out it likely would have been better. As is, it moves awkwardly along for stretches, and doesn't convince as a whole. But there are certainly parts that are of interest, and well done.

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Desolation Reviews: Yasmina Reza: Other Books by Yasmina Reza under Review Other books of interest under review:
  • See the index of French literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       French author Yasmina Reza, born in 1959, achieved her first great success with the play 'Art'. She has also written fiction and screenplays.

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