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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Last Words from Montmartre

Qiu Miaojin

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To purchase Last Words from Montmartre

Title: Last Words from Montmartre
Author: Qiu Miaojin
Genre: Novel
Written: (1996) (Eng. 2014)
Length: 161 pages
Original in: Chinese
Availability: Last Words from Montmartre - US
Last Words from Montmartre - UK
Last Words from Montmartre - Canada
Last Words from Montmartre - India
Ultime lettere da Montmartre - Italia
  • Chinese title: 蒙馬特遺書
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Ari Larissa Heinrich

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Our Assessment:

B+ : revealing not-quite-fiction about deep passion and despair

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 6-8/2014 Eileen Myles
The Japan Times . 26/7/2014 David Cozy
Publishers Weekly . 14/4/2014 .
TLS . 26/9/2014 Michael Lapointe
World Lit. Today C- 9-10/2015 Josh Stenberg

  From the Reviews:
  • "It is not clear whether Qiuís life and death can be mapped onto that of the woman who writes the letters of which the novel is composed, but it is refreshing that, though Qiuís protagonist is, like herself, a lesbian, it is not lesbianism and societyís sometimes unkind reaction to it that leads to the protagonistís suicide, but rather passion unrequited, frustration at not being lovable enough." - David Cozy, The Japan Times

  • "Qiuís voice, both colloquial and metaphysical, enchants even as she writes from the familiar perspective of a spurned lover." - Publishers Weekly

  • "(T)hese letters often display a manic emotional range (...) but just as often a remarkable restraint, even tranquillity, roving over a vast terrain of aesthetic criticism, political theory and spiritual meditation. (...) We must thank Qiuís skilful translator, Ari Larissa Heinrich, for bringing this study of anguish from the Chinese into English." - Michael Lapointe, Times Literary Supplement

  • "(T)hough it is a flawless translation, it is not really a good book. (...) Since few plot situations or character portraits are presented, either, the result is a meandering (very French) interior monologue. The literary payoff in such a text must be in felicities of thought, language, perception, or image, since the torments of passion are in and of themselves standard fare. But, although no one could doubt the depth of the narratorís misery, there is nothing here that one hasnít heard once too often before." - Josh Stenberg, World Literature Today

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:

       Last Words from Montmartre is an autobiographical and basically epistolary novel. The writer, a Taiwanese graduate student in Paris, can not get over her failed relationship with Xu -- and with it the disappointment of having: "devoted myself completely to someone who can't accept my perfect love". In letters, some directed to her former lover but all more generally a getting-all-this-off-her-chest, she dissects her passion and her feeling of betrayal, and wonders where to go from here.
       She writes at one point:

After I returned to Paris back in March, sometimes I would walk along the Seine around ten at night and imagine myself writing a novel called Last Words to those I have Loved Deeply, and envisioned concluding each individual letter with the words "Save me !"
       She does write the novel, but she does show some restraint, as the letters don't end with that cry. Perhaps she should have been more explicit and sought out help: upbeat and seeing a future at times, it isn't too long before she admits: "Yes, I've chosen suicide". It's hardly a surprise, given the title, and readers seem unlikely to come to the book without some awareness that Qiu Miaojin was a suicide and that this novel was only published posthumously -- indeed, the dedication reads: "For dead little Bunny and Myself, soon dead". Still, Last Words from Montmartre is a larger testament, and not just a multi-part suicide note.
       An opening note suggests: "readers can begin anywhere" in the book, yet it is carefully ordered, the letters presented chronologically if not entirely sequentially. Despite a sense of uncertainty at the beginning -- the narrator doesn't necessarily seem to have decided on suicide from the get-go -- there is a sense of a clearly delineated and planned literary (and life (and death)) project. So she writes in her first letter to the lover who abandoned and betrayed her: "In one heartbeat I've addressed thirty envelopes", a framework for the content she has in mind but still has to work her way through in the coming month. She can't quite keep to the daily schedule she apparently planned: the letters are dated from 17 April to 17 June (and Qiu Miaojin killed herself a week later). She sends twenty-one of the envelopes -- there are two letter seventeens, and letter five is out of sequence too, a forgotten envelope that she puts a later letter in -- and while she apparently receives some replies, and also reports on a variety of other communication -- telephone calls and conversations -- this a a monologue novel, dominated entirely by the suicidal narrator's/author's voice.
       Despite her hurt, the narrator doesn't obsess solely about her lost love. From French politics to her studies to meeting friends and seeing movies, she remains active. She returns repeatedly also not just to her time with her lover but to her recent visit to Tokyo and conversations with members of her family. She has not cut herself off from life -- until, of course, she finally does.
       There's a lot of turmoil here, and it's striking how coolly-analytic the narrator tries to be. But devastating heartbreak is difficult to work through rationally. The fact that the pet bunny she got with Xu (which Xu left her: "to keep me company") also died doesn't help either.
       Presumably, practically all readers will read the novel in the chronological order the letters are printed here, but Qiu may well be right that the order doesn't matter much. These are pieces of an explanation, but it doesn't matter what order they are read in: despite the occasional hopeful moment, the conclusion sadly seems to have been a foregone one regardless.
       Uncomfortably true to life, Last Words from Montmartre is hard to separate from the facts around it, but even as a purely literary exercise is an interesting examination of lost love and a variety of socio-cultural situations -- from the narrator complaining about Xu's family reading her letters to her looking back on her love-life with others as well as Xu to her situation as a Chinese student in Paris. Disturbing and sad, it's also the work of a talented young author.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 May 2014

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Last Words from Montmartre: Reviews: Other books by Qiu Miaojin under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Taiwanese author Qiu Miaojin (Chiu Miao-Chin; 邱妙津) lived 1969 to 1995.

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