Book review: The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction

The Complete Review Guide
to Contemporary World Fiction


Complete Review Guide

M. A. Orthofer
Columbia University Press

Release date:
April 2016
available also as ebook

European Literature – Fiction and Literature – Reference – Literary Theory and Criticism – Middle East Studies: Literature and Culture – Literary Studies – World Literature – Asian Literature – U.S. Literature



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You visit this blog, it means you are serious at reading. Then you definitely have to go and get The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction, an absolutely necessary reference book for all fiction lovers. I had been following Orthofer’s website for a while, the famous Complete Review, and its Literary Saloon. So when another blogger said the author had put together a book based on his thousands of reviews, and that it was available on Netgalley, I rushed there. After reading a few pages, I actually bought the book on print.

His site presents over 3,000 books. The advantage of this work book format is to give a more general “overview of various nations’ literatures”, organizing them by major geographical areas (Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, etc) and then by country.
The focus is mostly on fiction written after 1945, though the author does mention some of the major classics of each country.

Orthofer has a vast knowledge of what’s out there, in so many countries, including some works not yet available in English, which allows the reader to get a good general view of the literary landscape of a country.
There are more in depths presentations of some authors and some of their titles, plus some shorter mentions, in boxes entitled “Keep in mind”. Authors’ names and book titles appear in bold, which makes the reading clearer and easier. Each title has its year of publication in its country of origin and in the US, with its adapted title or titles, as several works have known more than one translation into English.

Orthofer manages to capture some authors’ characteristics in just a few words. About Pascal Garnier for instance, he says his “chilling novels… shift from the calm to the shocking in their resolutions” (p.49).

His opinions can be sometimes a bit harsh. I noticed for instance some not too tender comments about French modern literature in some particular instances.
To say the least, the author does not mince his words. He speaks about “writing which has often been willfully experimental, passive, and stolid” (p.28), and about  “the intellectual pretension of much modern French fiction”… with their “endless stream of introspective autofictions”. I do not always disagree, but it felt both refreshing and un-diplomatic to have things called by their names.
I notice Orthofer does not seem to appreciate too much “le nouveau roman”, no longer “nouveau” in 2016 for sure. He sees it for instance as “lengthy mulling over of the same thoughts”, though I believe le nouveau roman has enough diversity not to deserve this harsh presentation.
I guess the more you develop your critical thinking on a specific topic, the more you can allow yourself to criticize some elements. As long as your opinion is based on real informed knowledge, I assume this is acceptable, and actually not unlike many French (readers) who do tend to be hyper critical about everything.

Orthofer’s knowledge is extensive.
However, I noticed a surprising oversight. Nowhere is there any mention of Pierre Lemaitre, although Lemaitre is a major representative of crime fiction and noir, alongside Pascal Garnier and Fred Vargas. He also managed to win Le Goncourt on his first try with historical fiction in 2013, with his superb work on WW1, where his writing characteristics are not unlike the ones displayed in his thrillers.

The introduction of the book is fabulous, highlighting the unique aspect of the US, as a country where foreign literature is so little represented, compared to most other countries. Orthofer also shows hopeful signs, as more presses do tend these days to focus on literature in translation.

His presentation of the status of world literature nowadays is fascinating.
His thorough panorama is complemented by a long Appendix listing supplemental resources, both online and in print. And of course, there’s an alphabetical list of the authors mentioned.

So even though you may encounter some very strong statements that might gain to be revised through your own reading of some works cited here, it is definitely a major reference book, which should be part of your library, if you consider yourself a serious lover of world fiction, and fiction in general.

VERDICT: Thorough presentation of the status of world fiction since 1945. A necessary book for all fiction lovers, to help you have a better idea of what’s published beyond your own borders.


This user-friendly resource is the perfect reference for English-language readers who are eager to explore fiction from around the world. Profiling hundreds of titles and authors from 1945 to today, with an emphasis on fiction published in the past two decades, this guide introduces the styles, trends, and genres of the world’s literatures, from Scandinavian crime thrillers and cutting-edge Chinese works to Latin American narco-fiction and award-winning French novels.

The book’s critical selection of titles defines the arc of a country’s literary development. Entries illuminate the fiction of individual nations, cultures, and peoples, while concise biographies sketch the careers of noteworthy authors. Compiled by M. A. Orthofer, an avid book reviewer and the founder of the literary review site the Complete Review, this reference is perfect for readers who wish to expand their reading choices and knowledge of contemporary world fiction.



Michael Orthofer was born in Graz,
Austria in 1964.
He currently lives in New York.
He founded the Complete Review in the spring of 1999,
adding the site’s weblog, the Literary Saloon, in the summer of 2002.
Most of the archived material on the site is his work, as is all the new material.
The Complete Review has been praised by the Times Literary Supplement, Wired, and the New York Times Book Review, which called the site “one of the best literary destinations on the Web.” Orthofer has also served as judge for the Best Translated Book Award and the Austrian Cultural Forum’s ACF Translation Prize, and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
M.A.Orthofer on Twitter:

He is also on several YouTube videos


Eiffel Tower Orange

Which foreign country do you like reading the literature of?

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This book counted for the following Reading Challenges

New-Release-Challenge20162016 Nonfiction Challenge
New Authors 


22 thoughts on “Book review: The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction

  1. Do you follow the blog:”A Year of Reading the World”? She has also written a book on her armchair travels, and is now doing a “bookstore tour”. You know my well enough to know I read eclectically. This book I will recommend to our local library system because it does look like an awesome reference. Thank you


    • sure, I actually followed Anne’s blog when she was in the process of reading one book for each country represented at the Olympics – so, many more than the 53 I have covered for myself. I even received her review copy – but have not started reading it yet, though I’m really looking forward to doing it


  2. I especially enjoyed reading your reactions to Orthofer’s treatment of current French literature. You take issue here and there while certainly giving due praise for his depth of engagement and commitment to world fiction. I’m sure he would welcome the suggestion of Pierre Lemaitre, even include your reviews perhaps on his website, which is ongoing in its search. Orthofer is on Twitter and he responds! Again, cheers for a great review!


    • he does review Lemaitre’s books on his site, but I think he skipped him in the book – unless I’m mistaken. But I could not find him, though I read the French section several times, and when I do a search through my kindle book, his name does not show up. The reason might be that he didn’t find him worth while – his reviews of Irène and The Great Swindle (on WW1) are quite harsh!!
      His reviews are so much more scholarly than mine, so I would not even consider offering my services.


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  7. Sounds like a must have reference for any serious reader. I will be acquiring a hardcopy version soon. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I can’t say I prefer any one nation’s authors more than another. Being American, I probably read more American authors than others, but I certainly enjoy diversity. I’m definitely lacking though in Oriental authors.


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