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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Vain Art of the Fugue

Dumitru Tsepeneag

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To purchase Vain Art of the Fugue

Title: Vain Art of the Fugue
Author: Dumitru Tsepeneag
Genre: Novel
Written: 1991 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 140 pages
Original in: Romanian
Availability: Vain Art of the Fugue - US
Vain Art of the Fugue - UK
Vain Art of the Fugue - Canada
  • Romanian title: Zadarnicà e arta fugii
  • Translated by Patrick Camiller

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Our Assessment:

B : playful, well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 2-3/2007 Stefanie Sobelle
TLS . 14/8/2009 James Womack

  From the Reviews:
  • "Vain Art of the Fugue reads as if it grew out of fellow Romanian Tristan Tzara's Dadaist juxtapositions and Alain Robbe-Grillet's nouveau roman mysteries (which Tsepeneag has translated), though it has a whimsical beauty all its own. (...) The effect is of a burlesque Kafka, at once comical and ominous." - Stefanie Sobelle, Bookforum

  • "Vain Art of the Fugue, which takes a few basic elements and plays variations on them, is an example of structure overwhelming pleasure. " - James Womack, 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:

       Vain Art of the Fugue is a book of repetition and variation, literally a literary fugue. It begins with a man getting on a bus, in a hurry to get to the train station where he wants to meet someone, but it quickly jumps the tracks of linear narrative, returning to the scene earlier in the morning, before the man catches the bus, as well as then looping repeatedly around variations of the trip itself.
       The novel begins in the first person, but also shifts perspective and locale, following eventually not only the man's trip to the station but concurrent events: there are scenes from the train itself, as well as scenes outside the bus (or, eventually, the streetcar (yet another variation)) along the way to the station -- a bicyclist, a man running after the bus, what looks like a pig being slaughtered. Various scenes are replayed but it is never exactly the same. The characters (and their intents) remain fairly constant, as do some images -- the flowers, a knife, the pig, a fish -- but each different look allows events to unfold slightly (or, occasionally, very) differently.
       The protagonist is easily distracted: he sets out with a clear goal (get to the station) but almost anything can throw him off his path. Even at his most insistent -- badgering the driver to hurry -- he lives more in the particular moment and act than in the objective; indeed, there's much speculation on his part whether the train will be on time, or how late it will be, or why it might be late. There's a precariousness to his journey (and those of all the other voyagers in the book), a sense that there's almost no point in really worrying about any expectations of finality: it's clear that journey's end likely remains elusive (a sense conveyed by more than just the variations on the journeys themselves).
       One character even tries to explain it; typically, he's unable to get his point across readily. As the ticket-collector puts it, drawing a line and labeling the two ends A and C:

     "So, let's say that it's the distance between two towns -- or it could be two people, it doesn't matter, the important thing is that it's a distance, a space. Right ?"
       And between those spaces there are an infinite number of other points and, as in Zeno's paradox, the gaps are unbridgeable: between every point there remains a smaller distance, an infinite set of points separating us from each other and every place from every other. There's no getting anywhere.
       With smooth transitions and an easy manner, Tsepeneag offers a playful, lively literary fugue with considerable appeal. It's a small little game, but well done, a nice mix of real and surreal -- and not so long as to get enervating. Not your usual story, but a successful demonstration of what else can be done with the form.

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Vain Art of the Fugue: Reviews: Other books by Dumitru Tsepeneag under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Romanian author Dumitru Tsepeneag (Țepeneag) was born in 1937. He emigrated to France in 1971, and now divides his time between Paris and Bucharest.

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