The Eleven by Pierre Michon is a meandering tale of a fictional Eighteenth Century French artist Corentin and his most famous painting The Eleven. Michon describes the painting, The Eleven, in different ways. At one point it is depicted as the eleven stations of men. At other times, The Eleven is the portrait of the eleven men who brought about the Enlightenment and the Terror in France. And yet, at other times, Michon describes the painting as that of eleven portly Limousin barons or eleven golden haired boys severing heads. Perhaps it is due to translation, but the beginning of Pierre Michon’s The Eleven is confusing and remains confusing throughout. I could never figure out if the detailed descriptions within the first chapter were about a person, a subject in a painting, the artist’s models, or the artist himself.
The author, Pierre Michon, writes with the assumption that the reader knows quite a bit about the eighteenth century French artist Corentin and his masterpiece, The Eleven. Both artist and masterpiece are works of fiction. Through Michon’s ramblings, he at times becomes clear in his description. For example, he describes the birth of Corentin’s mother so well that it is easy to follow Michon’s narration. Then Michon digresses once more, addressing the reader directly with questions wondering if it is at all useful to explain the pre-history of the painter, again with the assumption that the reader knows Corentin’s history. Despite his digressions, Michon’s narrative at times becomes clear and his words develop a rhythmic poetic flow. It is unfortunate that it is at these times when the text is rich and vibrant that the author digresses as if afraid of delving too deeply into the organic nature of his own narrative.
I generally enjoy books about art and the artists who create the art. I love delving into the process of what makes art and how it is pulled together. A chance to glimpse the artist’s mind. Unfortunately, The Eleven gave neither process nor a glimpse at the artist’s genius nor cohesive story to fall into. Although bits of a story began to form in Michon’s narrative, I finished the book no more aware of the artist Corentin or his supposed painting The Eleven than when I first began reading.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Archipelago Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.