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The Eleven    by Pierre Michon order for
by Pierre Michon
Order:  USA  Can
Archipelago Books, 2013 (2013)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

This very short, and in its way, very difficult novel tells the story of an artist, Corentin, who rose from humble beginnings to prominent assignments decorating the homes of Louis XIV's mistresses. Now he has been commissioned to paint the chief leaders of the French Revolution, including Robespierre and Saint-Just.

It is told as a dramatic monologue by a busybody narrator who professes to know everything, including how and where the painting was commissioned, and why certain revolutionaries were garbed the way they were, and why they were facing a specific way. Through his ramblings and attempts to impress we are given a good picture of the revolutionaries, that harrowing time, and an artist's life and response to his work.

Winner of the French Academy's Grand Prix du Roman, the story is brilliant in a very unusual way - we learn everything indirectly but distinctly. For example, the painting is described so precisely, even placed in the Louvre, that we are tempted to look it up on Wikipedia to learn more about it. Similarly, while we are dealing with story details we are also exposed to philosophical views of that time in history and those people. Kudos must go to the translators for making such a smooth work of it all.

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