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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical



Yasmina Reza

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To purchase Hammerklavier

Title: Hammerklavier
Author: Yasmina Reza
Genre: Autobiographical
Written: 1997
Length: 126 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Hammerklavier - US
Hammerklavier - UK
Hammerklavier - Canada (English)
Hammerklavier - Canada (French)
Hammerklavier - France
Hammerklavier - Deutschland
Hammerklavier - España
  • Translated from the French by Carol Cosman, "in collaboration with the author and Catherine McMillan".

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Our Assessment:

B : a slight little book, with a few nice touches and a few failed ones

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian C+ 9/9/2000 Alfred Hickling
TLS . 27/10/2000 Carola Long

  From the Reviews:
  • "Perhaps it is only to be expected that, having perfected the play for people too busy to sit in a theatre, Reza has produced a novel for people with no time to read. (...) Part interior monologue, part sketchbook for a sequence of fragmented short-story ideas, the narrative skips randomly through a sequence of fleeting vignettes full of less-than-thrilling insights into a modern writer's schedule." - Alfred Hickling, The Guardian

  • "Yasmina Reza seems most comfortable in the realms of memory and imagination, which allow her to control time, to redefine it as a fiction, seeing the world outside the self as "the illusion of the world". The frictions between intense feeling and the retreat towards analytical detachment energize Hammerklavier, while the nuances of atmosphere and emotion are rendered in elegant lucid English by Carol Cosman and Catherine Macmillan." - Carola Long, 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:

       Hammerklavier is a thin book filled with short autobiographical vignettes. Memories of family -- especially her dead father -- and a number of friends, as well as other personal experiences are recounted. It is much like what one has come to expect from Annie Ernaux (see our Annie Ernaux page, and the linked reviews), though Reza's writing is nowhere near as polished.
       There are 44 very short pieces in this collection of reminiscences. They do not recount a life, they do not even proceed chronologically. Focussing on memory, and on time passing and on loss, Reza does, however, present a cohesive collection, a sum of impressions that does add up to more than just the brief flashes of each simple narrative.
       Like Ernaux, Reza does not shy away from some harsh and ugly truths. Several of the short pieces talk about the elderly and the ill -- openly, honestly, and with all the ambivalent feelings surrounding the difficult circumstances that are described.
       There are fond memories of her father, several centered around their shared love of music -- as in the title story, in which her father tries to play the famous Beethoven sonata. One of the most touching pictures is a chance encounter on the street with former French prime minister, Raymond Barre, Reza's proud father introducing his then still unknown daughter to a man he had never met but who he (correctly) believed shared his love of music. In another piece Reza meets the great theatre director, Roger Blin, who goes out of his way to show her kindness -- but she is too awed to seize the opportunity that presents itself.
       There are also pieces with Reza's very young daughter, effectively used as contrasts to the very different world of the old, many of whom have resigned from life. Reza, in the middle, clings to memory (which she wants to impress upon her daughter), and to art.
       The collection is not especially revealing about Reza herself, though there are interesting titbits (including the confusion caused when she -- a Jewish girl among Catholics -- prays, in imitation of her schoolmates). A few pieces don't work at all, and almost none have the crispness of Annie Ernaux's writing. Most are poignant, but too many set out too obviously to achieve that effect.
       The translation also seems less than ideal, with a number of awkward phrasings that don't read well.
       A decent effort, but not completely successful in what it sets out to do.

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Hammerklavier: Reviews: Yasmina Reza: Other Books by Yasmina Reza under Review Other books of interest under review:
  • See the works of Annie Ernaux, who does this sort of stuff better
  • 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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