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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Award

Lydie Salvayre

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To purchase The Award

Title: The Award
Author: Lydie Salvayre
Genre: Novel
Written: 1993 (Eng. 1997)
Length: 151 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Award - US
The Award - UK
The Award - Canada
La médaille - Canada
La médaille - France
  • French title: La médaille
  • Translated by Jane Davey

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Our Assessment:

A- : sharp satire of contemporary industrial management

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Award is set in an auditorium at a large French automobile factory. The action consists entirely of the awards-ceremony being held there, where workers (and the widow of one) and managers are being honoured in front of their colleagues. Each medal-winner is introduced by a speech by a manager (who have a tendency to get a bit carried away, and do go off-topic), and then the medal-winners get to speak -- so it goes, back and forth. Aside from a few parenthetical descriptions of the action on and around the stage, the book is made up up solely of these monologues.
       Industrial relations have clearly gone awry here. The managers have embraced some supposedly worker-friendly ideas, but deep down there is little more than contempt and distrust of the workers, necessary evils (or, preferably, imbeciles) that have to be prodded and pushed to doing the bare minimum and are treated as though they are the enemy practically all the time. Those assembled here are the select: "Your conformity is perfect", is how the first speaker greets them. But he, like the other managers, can't help but point out what's (still) wrong and how things might be done better. And, boy, do they get carried away: barely a page into his speech the first speaker is already giving masturbation how-to advice (a change of company policy -- they no longer condemn it, indeeed advocate it "for those of you not wise enough to equip yourselves with a spouse"):

Pull your foreskin upwards, then downwards, like a piston. Repeat this movement from twenty to fifty times, according to need., while steadily increasing your speed. Next, wipe yourself off with a Kleenex, provided for your convenience in our latrines. We have anticipated your every necessity. Pull your pants back up and return to your place on the production line. You will get back to work with twice the enthusiasm.
       Indeed, they make it sound like all they want is a happy workplace:
We never surrender to discouragement. Your well-being is dear to our hearts and, if necessary, we will impose it upon you.
       The paternalistic corporation thinks it knows best, but the medal-winners tell quite a different story. True, they acknowledge complete devotion to the company, but mainly because they've been broken by it, and have no other place. Their lives revolve around their work entirely. The working conditions are terrible, the work itself either numbing or dangerous (or both). These are not happy people.
       Driving home the point that management's sunny vision isn't working out the way imagined is the fact that during the speeches news comes of agitators in the plant: workers causing greater and greater trouble, until in the end they storm the auditorium itself. But the order of the day is still hard to upset.
       The too-honest management-speak Salvayre offers is often hilarious, from calls for: "Ladies and Gentlemen, exploit yourselves. Think only of what you have to gain", to various new decrees -- one going so far as to acknowledge:
     Our experts studied the death penalty issue. They propose that we strive to compensate for the glaring inadequacies of the penal system. We are very enthusiastic about this suggestion. We rejoice in serving our country and employing our ideas for the greater glory of the Republic.
       Workers are expected to make the ultimate sacrifices: one medal-winner notes that just the previous week one of his workers died on the production line, and he had to face the choice of stopping the line or continuing. Obviously he insisted on pressing on -- "we have production quotas" -- but did so as much because that was his original gut instinct and order, and he couldn't be seen to change his mind, no matter what pressure his workers put on him (such as calls to his humanity and to human dignity -- fairly foreign concepts on this workfloor, to be sure). Another medal-winner is actually dead; his widow speaking in his stead.
       The Award is a very amusing satire, the tone almost entirely convincing, even while the content often veers far into the absurd. It's an uncommon look at the contemporary European industrial corporation, and the tension between workers and management, but the approach is very effective, and it's very good entertainment throughout. Certainly recommended.

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The Award: Reviews: Lydie Salvayre: Other books by Lydie Salvayre under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Lydie Salvayre has written numerous books.

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© 2005-2009 the complete review

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