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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Young Man from Savoy


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To purchase The Young Man from Savoy

Title: The Young Man from Savoy
Author: C.-F.Ramuz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1936 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 151 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Young Man from Savoy - US
The Young Man from Savoy - UK
The Young Man from Savoy - Canada
Le garçon savoyard - Canada
Le garçon savoyard - France
Der Bursche aus Savoyen - Deutschland
  • French title: Le garçon savoyard
  • Translated and with an Introduction and Afterword by Blake Robinson

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Our Assessment:

A- : impressive small novel of searching for the absolute

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/2008 Tim Feeney

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ramuz’s storytelling implies more than it describes, and his prose is subtly unsettling: in Savoy he often substitutes “you” for third-person pronouns, and he switches between past and present tense at will, sometimes within the same sentence. The techniques combine to practically force the audience into identifying with the characters while distorting the overall narrative reality, like meeting a group of people who proceed to shake you by the shoulders. (It’s a lot more accessible and fun than it sounds.)" - Tim Feeney, Review of Contemporary Fiction

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:

       The main character of this short novel is Joseph Jacquet, a young man working on a cargo ship.

     He's the young man from Savoy; he is a strange young man.
       He's engaged to be married, to Georgette, and has a nice, small-town future to look forward to, but he doesn't seem quite ready for it.
       Joseph works on a sailing ship, but at the beginning of the novel he and the rest of the crew lose their jobs as engine-driven cargo vessels take over. Joseph doesn't seem to mind -- "That's over. Everything's changing" he admits to himself, and even if he's unsteadied by change he can roll with these punches fairly easily --, certainly not as much as some of his co-workers, especially old man Pinget, who is too old to get a new job and whose daughter has stolen his savings. Joseph doesn't really fit in well with the rest of the crew, either; he joins them on occasion, but is just as ready to go his own way. Though he is not quite sure what that way is:
Where is he going ? He doesn't very well know; it's that nothing in the world holds.
       In summary this may sound like a novel about a young man about to settle down who is having second thoughts about everything:
     Her name was Georgette; they had been engaged for over a year and were soon to get married; so there it is, that's all. What is it we are looking for in life ?
       That is the question, of course, and Ramuz does a remarkable job in presenting Joseph's quest for an answer.
       What really sets Joseph off is a visit to the circus, where he is transfixed by Miss Anabella, a high-wire act performer -- "a woman and more than a woman, being only strength, only beauty" -- whose act takes her ever upward -- until she disappears through a hole in the top of the circus tent. Here Joseph finally sees what he thinks he's been looking for; he, too, wants to follow, up to the stars. But the ideal is hard to reach -- the circus moves on, for one.
       Joseph continues his quest -- trying to follow Miss Anabella, but then, when the local barmaid shows some interest, settling for her. Afterwards he realises: "That's not it", and:
He is saying to himself, "There's something we are looking for, only can we get it, that thing -- and what is it ?" Then he was saying to himself, "It's not her."
       No, it is the abstract Miss Anabella, risen to the stars, just out of reach.
       The practical Georgette isn't pleased by the turn of events, but thinks her love and her future can be salvaged; the barmaid doesn't mean anything to Joseph, she believes -- and though she's right about that, she still has it wrong. Still, for a while he more or less comes to his senses and holds onto Georgette:
     "You're a little crazy," she said.
     "Oh, I know that all right, but it will go away."
     "You're sure it will go away ?"
     He said, "I'm sure; as you yourself can see, I'm here."
       But his restlessness is hard to keep down. "All the same there are beautiful things in life", he says, and he's glimpsed them, he's glimpsed that glimmer of hope, of Miss Arabella , and he can't get over it. Nothing in the world holds him. Not enough.
       At heart, The Young Man from Savoy is very much a Romantic novel, a Werther with a harder edge and with a protagonist lost entirely in an ideal rather than reality. The conclusion is a foregone one -- it is either that, or Joseph giving up and settling down with Georgette after all, and, despite Joseph's wavering and occasional concessions, Ramuz makes it clear that that can't happen --, and yet Ramuz leads the reader to it in a thoroughly compelling way. Joseph's reverie should be annoying, but Ramuz has just the right touch with his character's dreamy uncertainty -- perhaps because, unlike most dreamers in Romantic novels, he is also able to interact with the common folk in a believable fashion.
       Ramuz's world is one where the people turn a blind eye to what they don't want to see and try to keep a specific kind of stability in their world. In the background:
     You could hear old man Pinget talking again: "A bit of rope, and that's it."
       But, despite these warning-cries, no one acts or reaches out. Joseph's transgressions are also ignored and re-interpreted to fit local expectations -- until, finally, he goes too far. It's a dark novel of ideals and the mundane world -- but old man Pinget is a good reminder of how very base this world is: Joseph's reaching for the stars may have been completely unrealistic, but it would have taken very little to save the old man, and even that proved to be too much.
       A remarkable find, and well worthwhile.

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The Young Man from Savoy: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swiss author Charles Ferdinand Ramuz lived 1878 to 1947.

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© 2008-2021 the complete review

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