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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

101 Detectives

Ivan Vladislavić

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To purchase 101 Detectives

Title: 101 Detectives
Author: Ivan Vladislavić
Genre: Stories
Written: 2015
Length: 204 pages
Availability: 101 Detectives - US
101 Detectives - UK
101 Detectives - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : sharp and keenly observed writing

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       101 Detectives collects eleven stories by Ivan Vladislavić; a nice touch is that it includes an appendix of 'Deleted Scenes', short bits (the longest just over two pages), one for (or from) almost each of these. In addition, one of the pieces, 'Dead Letters', imagines an exhibit by Neville Lister -- the photographer familiar as the narrator of Vladislavić's Double Negative -- and another appendix, 'Dead Letter Gallery', shows pictures from an exhibit of the fictional Lister's work, including reproductions of some of the letters included in the story, that actually was held in Kraków in 2011.
       In 'The Trunks - A Complete History' the narrator describes his history with a set of trunks (and their contents) that a friend of his suggests he take charge of:

Why ? Because I am a writer, of course, and it was obvious that the trunks contained stories.
       Yet the narrative is his own story, about the trunk and his years of dealing with them and their contents -- not any story he can find in them. Indeed, rarely do his protagonists range beyond their own stories, even when others lie near at hand; 'The Reading' is an exception, juggling the meeting of a variety of stories (yet also a perfect example of different experiences that can not be conveyed on the same plane: leveling is impossible).
       Vladislavić's trunk-burdened narrator admits: "It's a problem, clearly, that people give me their papers" (as those in the trunks were hardly the first) -- but he sees now:
They were more than a warning about a debilitating fascination with the leavings of one life, assembled here in tin and leather and glass; they were a prophecy of the distasteful end that awaits all who set too much store by the written word. The pointlessness of paper.
       Vladislavić's protagonists include letter-writers, a man who writes a 'Report on a Convention', another who describes a car-launch event ('Industrial Theatre'), and a would-be detective, in the title-piece, analyzing the situation he is in and considering how a detective would and should approach it. 'Exit Strategy' tells of a woman employed as a 'corporate storyteller' -- who can't quite measure up to the corporate poet's showmanship or style -- in a story that has shades of dystopian science fiction to it, even as it seems so grounded in our (possible, corporate) everyday.
       Vladislavić's stories impress in particular with their crisp, precise language: these stories are all sharp edge, but effortlessly unfolded. There's a darkness to many of them too -- shades of bleak -- and among the most powerful is one of the most straightforward, 'Lullaby', the narrator drawn close to two vacationers but not fully in, any connection then severed as tragedy strikes.
       In 'Hair Shirt' the narrator is typical of both Vladislavić's protagonists and Vladislavić-as-writer, noting at one point:
If I went outside, I knew, everything would change, the story would have a different ending, but I had no idea whether it would be better or worse. What could I say ?
       Vladislavić's narrators are aware of how easily their stories could turn in entirely different directions, yet rarely do they seem to try to force the issue. Like the narrator of 'The Trunks - A Complete History', they allow the story to happen to them, rather than seeking it out, even when they have the potential material (in that case even literally) at their feet.
       The writing in 101 Detectives impresses throughout. These are well-conceived and, especially, well-written stories -- yet one is tempted to say instead, perhaps: well-formulated, as they seem so precisely composed, the words so well but also obviously carefully (one might even say: cautiously) chosen.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 June 2015

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101 Detectives: Reviews: Ivan Vladislavić: Other books by Ivan Vladislavić under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa

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About the Author:

       South African author Ivan Vladislavić was born in 1957.

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