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The Round and Other Cold Hard Facts by J. M.…
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The Round and Other Cold Hard Facts (1982)

by J. M. G. Le Clezio

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (4)  Italian (1)  All languages (5)
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In this masterful collection of eleven short stories, J.M.G. Le Clézio explores the lives of those who subsist on the margins of society, the victims of poverty, crime, age, and the disintegration of family and tradition. Described as being set largely in the French Riviera region, against its unseen backdrop of affluence, these stories seem to exist in the harsh space between traditional culture and the modern world.

Winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature, Le Clézio was described by the Nobel Committee as an “…explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization”. There is a subtle brutality to the lives of Le Clézio’s characters, a feeling that society has ceased to protect them, no longer offering sanctuary or sustenance. We see them in moments of extreme vulnerability, but without knowing how they have arrived there. Their tales unfold with an intense realism, through finely wrought landscapes interwoven with vividly rendered thoughts and memories.

Moloch is a compelling story of distrust and resiliency. Young, pregnant and fearful of the authorities, Liana awaits the delivery of her child while living isolated in a mobile home with only a wolf dog for company. The most chilling moment in this collection is seen through the eyes of the wolf dog, ravaged by hunger and left alone in the mobile home with the newborn.

In The Escapee, a prison escapee employs the survival lessons of his family’s shepherding culture as he flees to the mountains. His thirst, hunger and fatigue elicit memories of tending sheep with his brother and evading soldiers with his fugitive uncle, until an encounter with a young boy brings both rescue and betrayal. I found the tone of this story to be somewhat reminiscent of Le Clezio’s excellent novel, [Desert].

In Yondaland, a young girl finds solace in an abandoned theatre that faces the ocean, where she soaks up the energy of sun and sea, to be carried back to her hospitalized mother. But the building is slated for demolition and she awaits the wrecking ball from her perch under the pointed arch recess of a window, desperate to save her one remaining place of happiness.

The destructive forces of time and progress converge in Villa Aurora, as a young man returns to the site of childhood memories, a neglected villa overrun by feral cats and home to a reclusive, mysterious woman. Expecting to relive the magic of his memories, he finds only an elderly woman living alone in fear, silence and loneliness.

The title story, The Round is a simple, yet powerful tale of youth seeking risk and excitement, trying to fill an inescapable emptiness. Two young women make a round of the downtown streets at high-speed on mopeds, intending to commit a petty theft, with devastating consequences.

Although choosing to write in French, Le Clézio was raised in a bilingual, English-French household and was introduced to English literature at a young age. Knowing this makes it all the more disappointing that so few of his works are readily available in English translation. Le Clézio is a brilliant writer who deserves to be more widely read. Literate and accessible, lucid and eloquent, these stories are dense and absorbing in their expressive power. I highly recommend this outstanding collection. ( )
5 vote Linda92007 | Jul 29, 2012 |
he writes with a longing, a restlessness, a tension that pulls the reader in and pushes the characters to their destiny. such weighty themes of silence, fear, light, loneliness, emptiness, freedom, death. and all of these themes radiate from the landscape blinding, infusing, drowning the main characters, causing them to bend and break under the weight. this is amazing literature, true art in prose.
  Rocky_Wing | Aug 3, 2011 |
Un peu trop angoissant par moment à cause des répétitions.. ( )
  Raskol | Jul 13, 2011 |
One of the things I noted (which is not unusual in Le Clezio's fiction) on rereading the short story collection 'The round and other cold hard facts' is the feeling of disconnectedness by most all of the characters presented. It's as if the world that men are creating for themselves is alien to his nature. It is nature and the natural world itself that provides the only solace for these individuals. It's been noted before in other places that Le Clezio is a writer of 'Sun' and 'Light' and also the 'Sea' and the 'Desert' for that matter. Landscape is very important as well. When Le Clezio sets his work in an urban enviroment such as in the title story here even the more or less innocent become cold and cynical--their attenae go up and survival becomes the major impulse. A few synopses:

In 'The Round' two young women Titi and Martine plan a small time robbery--cruising around on motorbikes they spot another woman waiting at a bus stop--circling the block they come around again and Martine yanks the ladies handbag away--both then speeding away towards an intersection--Titi goes right through without looking but Martine following with the bag is sideswiped by a moving van.

In 'Moloch' a young pregnant girl Liana lives alone in a trailer with her wolf dog Nick. Abandoned by her lover and feeling threatened by the outside world particularly in the person of a social worker who occasionally stops by to look in on her. It is boiling hot outside and she is not taking care of herself--eating infrequently and daydreaming in her stuffy and cramped trailer. The day comes when she has the baby. Increasingly paranoid she fears that the baby will be taken away from her so she abandons the trailer and sets out on the road with baby and dog in tow.

In 'The Escapee'--Tayar (an Algerian?) a convict escapes from a prison into a remote, depopulated and mountainous area. Without any food he gradually weakens. A boy finds him near a watering hole and later brings him food. On the point of physical collapse he finds solace gazing at the heavens and thinking about his childhood homeland. Later--as he lays helplessly the same boy leads the guards pursuing him to where he is.

In 'Ariadne'--a young teenage girl Christine wanders around her new neighborhood. Her family has recently moved into an apartment block. Being young Christine is stuck on her appearance and fashion. Going home alone at night she is surrounded by a group of boys on motorcycles who keep circling around her closer and closer until taking fright she runs off. Finding herself at her apartment house she enters only to find the same group of boys still wearing their motorcycle helmets. The boys take her down into the basement and gang rape her. When they're done they threaten her life if she tells anyone. The story ends with her fixing her appearance.

In 'Anne's game' a young man replays the events of the automobile accident that killed his fiance. On this particular day--the one year anniversary of that event he drives his car over a cliff at the same spot that his lover died.

In 'The runner'--Milos a Serbian crosses with a group of illegal workers over into France from Italy. Having handed over his identity card to the people intent on exploiting his labor and after months of that kind of rigamarole he finally confronts his bosses. The situation of having other illegals backing him up--they decide to pay him off but sending him packing on foot. At first he hangs around in France--sleeping at construction sites--but feeling alien and afraid of being arrested and deported he soon heads back to Serbia on foot.

The last story 'David' is about a 9 year old boy--looking for his runaway 14 year old brother in a large city. Stealing food and roaming around. At end of story he is caught stealing money from a cash register at a shoe store.

All in all it's a really fine collection of stories and a good place to start if you've never read Le Clezio before. Le Clezio's concerns with the natural world and ecology are evident enough but what mostly comes through at least for me is the empathy he has for the down and out, depressed and hurting protagonists of his stories. He has a real gift at getting to the heart of things. ( )
2 vote lriley | May 5, 2009 |
Showing 4 of 4
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
J. M. G. Le Clezioprimary authorall editionscalculated
光一, 豊崎Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
領時, 佐藤Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0803229461, Hardcover)

Set largely in locations near the French Riviera, these eleven short stories depict the harsh realities of life for the less-privileged inhabitants of this very privileged region. Distinguished French writer J. M. G. Le Clézio lends his voice to the dispossessed and explores his familiar themes of alienation, immigration, poverty, violence, indifference, the loss of beauty, and the betrayal of innocence.

In one story an adolescent girl encounters the violence of a gang of masked bikers in a hostile and desolate housing project. In others a man stands by helplessly as a place of great beauty and deep childhood memory is slowly consumed and destroyed by a quickly developing city, an illegal immigrant desperate for work finds himself the prisoner of a ring trafficking in human beings, and two girls risk everything by running away from home and their dead-end factory jobs in search of a more meaningful life. At once tragic and evocative, these engrossing and beautifully crafted stories touch upon the loss of human values in a rapidly changing world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:58 -0400)

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