Book review: Civilizations

CivilizationsCivilizations
by Laurent Binet
Grasset
08/14/2019
The book is not yet available in English
Literary fiction/Historical fiction
370 pages

Goodreads

As Civilizations is not yet available in English, and I got it through Netgalley.fr, I will do a bilingual review here, with the French first.

J’ai beaucoup apprécié deux livres de Laurent Binet: La septième fonction du langage et HHhH, pas encore recensé. J’ai donc saisi l’occasion lorsque j’ai découvert qu’il venait de publier Civilizations. On dit Jamais deux sans trois, mais en fait ce n’est pas toujours vrai, et j’ai été très déçue par celui-ci.

Alors, pourquoi ma déception ?
Tout d’abord, on ne voit pas clairement d’emblée ce que l’auteur veut faire et où il va. La première partie commence par Freydís Eiríksdóttir, qui serait née vers 970 d’Erik le Rouge. Mais vous réalisez ensuite que certains éléments ne figurent pas dans les livres d’histoire et de géographie.
Ensuite, vous arrivez aux journaux de Christophe Colomb. Et vous réalisez que le roman parle clairement d’uchronie ou histoire alternative. Au point que le Nouveau Monde finira par devenir l’Europe et que les Incas y deviendront la classe dirigeante au 16ème siècle – grâce à ce que les Vikings ont apporté aux Amériques (à rapprocher de la 1ère partie).

Cela pourrait être une bonne idée, mais je l’ai trouvée menée de façon trop lente et ennuyeuse.
Une chose que j’ai quand même appréciée est la façon dont Binet a inséré toutes les grandes figures historiques de cette époque, et comment il s’est essayé à divers styles d’écriture dans les différentes parties du livre.
Mais finalement, cela pourrait être le problème principal : Binet cherche-t-il toujours son propre genre ? Après un thriller-traité linguistique et un roman historique-mémoire, nous passons à l’uchronie, écrite dans différents styles. Il pourrait être important pour un auteur de s’essayer à différents genres, mais ce dernier ne semble pas fonctionner du tout, et j’espère que Binet retournera bientôt aux autres genres où il a excellé.

Au fait, vous pouvez vous demander pourquoi le mot du titre est écrit avec un z. Eh bien la clé est au coeur du roman et de son genre littéraire. Bonne trouvaille pour le titre.

And now my thoughts in English:

I have thoroughly enjoyed two books by Laurent Binet: The 7th Function of Language and HHhH. I haven’t reviewed the latter, but both books are now available in English. So I seized the opportunity when I discovered he had just published Civilizations. Three is a charm, as they say.
Well, it’s not always true, and I ended up being extremely disappointed. 

First, it’s not clear what the author is doing and where he is going. The first part starts with Freydís Eiríksdóttir, who was said to be born around 970 to Erik the Red. But then you discover elements here that are neither in history nor in geography books.

Then you get to Christopher Columbus’s diaries. And you realize the novel is definitely about alternate history. To the point that the New World will end up being Europe, and the Incas will be its ruling class in the 16th century – thanks to what the Vikings brought to the Americas (to tie with part 1).

It could be a good idea, but I found it too slow and boring.

One thing I appreciated was how Binet inserted all major historical figures of the time, and how he tried different styles of writing in the different parts of the book.

But ultimately, this could actually be the main problem: is Binet still looking for his own style? After a thriller/linguistic treatise and a historical novel/memory, we land here in alternate history, written in different styles. It could be important for an author to try his hand at different genres, but the latter doesn’t seem to work at all, and I hope Binet goes back to the previous genres where he excelled.

A word about the title: if you studied French, you may remember that the word civilisation is spelled with an s. The z is key, in connection with the alternative history that is at the heart of the book. This was a cool touch.

VERDICT: Great plot idea, and some attractive writing, but too slow and boring. 

Eiffel-Tower#1

HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?
Any good alternative history you have read?
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS  IN A COMMENT PLEASE

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this ebook free of charge through Netgalley.fr. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own. Obviously!!

7 thoughts on “Book review: Civilizations

  1. Well I enjoyed HHhH though it was quite unusual. Since I don’t read French I will have to wait for the English. Do you think it will be translated?

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  2. The idea for this book does sound good! I’m sorry to hear that the author’s style didn’t work as well for you. I’ve not heard of them before, but they seem really interesting.

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    • You have to try his 2 previous books, really really great. I’m sure they are working on the English translation of this one, as his 2 previous ones were translated. Will probably come out next year

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  3. Pingback: Une uchronie ambitieuse (Civilizations, Laurent Binet) – Pamolico : critiques, cinéma et littérature

  4. Pingback: 2019: October wrap-up | Words And Peace

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