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Reticence by Jean-Philippe Toussaint

Reticence (1991)

by Jean-Philippe Toussaint

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 4 of 4
Very quick read and I was engaged throughout. I read it in one sitting. It has left me confused and pondering certain aspects for days, especially as the narrator leaves his infant son alone for hours. Will read more by Jean Toussaint. ( )
  mikyork | Oct 23, 2014 |

1. a.
Reluctance to speak about something or to express personal thoughts and feelings freely; maintenance of silence; the state or quality of being taciturn or reserved in speech
4. Reluctance to perform a particular action; disinclination, hesitation
A searing study of mounting paranoia, Toussaint’s Reticence is a novel that, as Jean-Claude Lebrun has remarked, must be read in one sitting. Toussaint is a master here with his pacing, and the narrative ebb and flow—all of which takes place, fittingly enough, beside the unquiet seaside in the fictional outpost of Sasuelo just overlooking the island—is breathtakingly astute, precise, and often a marvel as Reticence unfolds.

The unnamed narrator arrives at Sasuelo with his three-month-old son, for reasons unknown to the reader—and perhaps even to himself. Toussaint begins at a leisurely pace, offering vignettes of the seaside village, the sense of isolation that is both embraced by and yet also a cause of anxiety for the narrator, and a mysterious sense of foreboding that is as rooted in the mystery/suspense genre (this novel is often considered Toussaint’s take on a detective novel) as it is in the philosophical novel genre, particularly as Toussaint takes on existential and phenomenological questions and channels authors such as Camus and Beckett while also demonstrating a debt to visual artists from Munch to experimental cinema.

As the narrator’s mental state heightens, causing him to pursue pressing questions with a reticent alacrity that is reminiscent of Mersault at times, the reader is forced to pose his or her own questions, both to the narrator (whose reticence renders these questions null and void before they are even formulated) and to the text itself. If Reticence is Toussaint’s take on the detective novel, it is the reader who is the one detecting the “truths” and “facts” here, and yet the systemic failure of detection—or reading as detection—is made all the more intriguing as the spiraling journey of logic (or illogic) is the loop around which readers, like the narrator, are forced to travel, causing an odd textual rhythm at times that mimics the paranoia as it grows. 

A truly masterful work by a writer with whom I am only acquainted by way of his novel [b:Television: A Novel|407487|Television A Novel|Jean-Philippe Toussaint|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348045585s/407487.jpg|396807], yet one I look forward to getting to know in more depth in due course.

4.5/5 stars ( )
  proustitute | Jul 17, 2014 |
A charming but also chilling little jeu d'esprit. I haven't read any other Toussaint, and get the feeling this is intentionally 'minor,' but it's very entertaining and extremely clever. Toussaint uses a very restricted symbolic palette (cats, light, the color grey, that's about it) and a very restrained narrative voice to more or less drag you to hell and back, even though at any given moment you just feel like you're reading a very mild memoir of a moderately intelligent man going about his business.

And suddenly you think holy shit, this guy is a crazed murderer! Wait, no he's not, he's 'just' a paranoid delinquent! Wait, no he's not, he really is a crazed murderer! Oh my god the world is just death and ugly cars! Oh no, it's all okay.

It's like Henry James' 'The Jolly Corner' 'Moby Dick' set in the bleakest, most economically depressed tourist town you can imagine. Occasionally hilarious, occasionally terrifying. ( )
1 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
At the beginning of this somewhat mysterious novella, the narrator observes a dead cat in the water of the harbor in the small town he and his infant son are visiting, and believes the cat has been "murdered." At the end of the novella, the mystery of the cat's death is solved. In between, the narrator goes about his business, seemingly viewing none of his very strange actions as anything other than ordinary. He becomes obsessed with the idea that a man named Biaggi, a man who is apparently his friend and who apparently he has come to see, is following him and observing him, and goes to great (and illegal) lengths to try to catch Biaggi in the act. He tends to his son, and then at other times leaves him by himself in the hotel room. He reveals something which may be true or may be entirely in his imagination. His behavior throughout is extremely peculiar and, though he is obviously an extremely unreliable narrator, it may in fact be what he really did because he seems to have no awareness that his behavior is so peculiar.

Is he reticent about visiting Biaggi properly? Is he reticent about telling the readers the "truth"? Although I was mystified by this book, it was a quick read and I enjoyed it.
2 vote rebeccanyc | Jun 23, 2013 |
Showing 4 of 4
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jean-Philippe Toussaintprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lambert, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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There was a dead cat floating in the harbour that morning, a black cat floating slowly on the surface of the water alongside a small boat.
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Book description
In Reticence, a man on vacation seems to be under surveillance. But it’s far more pleasant to enjoy the Mediterranean than to look for answers, make deductions, or get upset—isn't it?

“A little thing happened to me. Which could have just as easily happened to you. You’re on vacation in a hotel with your son in a small village and you’re about to go see some friends, but something holds you back, a mysterious reticence that prevents you from going to find them. Here is the novel of this reticence, small and specific, and of the fears that it instigates, little by little. Because not only are your friends not there when you do decide to go find them, but, several days later, you find a dead cat in the harbor, a black cat floating in front of you on the water . . .”
In Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s take on the detective novel, we find a man on vacation in a tiny village, where a writer named Biaggi appears to be keeping him under surveillance. To what end? Ah, but it’s far more pleasant to enjoy the Mediterranean night air than to look for answers, make deductions, or get upset—isn't it?
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In Reticence , a man on vacation seems to be under surveillance. But it's far more pleasant to enjoy the Mediterranean than to look for answers, make deductions, or get upsetisn't it?

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