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Maps and Territories: Global Positioning in the Contemporary French Novel

maps and territories coverOver the last decades the internet, urbanisation, technological advances and the global movement of people, information and ideas have wrought profound changes to how we perceive the concepts of location and human relations. The author of this book of literary criticism has selected eight recent novels by eight leading French novelists and analyses how the authors engage with this. 

The book is divided into four parts, excluding the introduction and conclusion. Each section examines how the protagonists of the novels analysed deal with a specific aspect of globalisation by focussing on two books by two authors. I particularly enjoyed the first part, which is about the effect 24/7 media dominated by neo-liberal moguls affects both individuals and society. The bird’s eye view detaches the viewer from the events portrayed and turns them into passive spectators. In the second part, novels where the protagonists find themselves transplanted to unfamiliar, fast-moving international environments are analysed. I also really enjoyed the third part in which protagonists who have lost their place in society develop new lives in the boundaries between the public and private spheres.

Maps do not show reality as such but are edited to convey a message. In the example in the book, the 1652 map of Paris ostensibly shows a realistic view of the city, but is full of symbolism emphasising the power of the Sun-King. Meanwhile, blank spaces in the present street-map of Paris are not empty at all, but actually contain large industrial estates or undeveloped areas that corporations and developers do not want the public to be aware of. In the fourth part, novels where protagonists find ways to counter their alienation are analysed. 

That does not mean the other two parts were not interesting; far from it. The entire book is a challenging but thought-provoking and enjoyable read. I have one minor issue, and that is the quotes in French that break up the text. The big issue I have is that  I now want to read the novels analysed, but the only ones that seem to be translated into English are Michel Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory and Virginie Despentes’s Vernon Subutex trilogy. To me, this limits the impact of the book as readers unfamiliar with French cannot partake of the analysed novels.

By Lars Backstrom

MAPS AND TERRITORIES: GLOBAL POSITIONING IN THE CONTEMPORARY FRENCH NOVEL by JOSHUA ARMSTRONG, 2019. Published by: Liverpool University Press 238pp (hbk) ISBN: 9781786942012 List Price: £90.00. W: