... exactly the sort of novel that I had been awaiting for such a long time. I wanted something that challenged me, and Hold Fast Your Crown does that to such a point that I am challenged even to describe its plot ... undeniably a mess, and yet it works, in no small measure thanks to Haenel's strange and haunting prose ... If you like literature that is reflective and stimulating, then Hold Fast Your Crown will give you what you are looking for in spades ... not a book for everyone. I can very well imagine some readers being bored by the wandering plot or angered by the madness of the narrator...Having said that, I cannot help but feel that the novel is unwieldy by design, and that there is an order subtending the chaos ... it shocked me, excited me, angered me, compelled me, delighted me more than any French book I've read that has been written in the last 50 years, and as far as I'm concerned that's all I need to highly recommend Haenel's book.
This wildly ambitious novel audaciously layers on metaphors that explore truth, film and art, and the essence of life. The narrator is unreliable in multiple ways, but that is apparently the price of pursuing a vision of greatness. From the author of The Messenger (2012), this demanding novel tracks one man’s profound journey.
This observational mode doesn’t provide much narrative momentum. When we are offered every word of a ten-page eulogy given by one minor character about another, whom we have never met, the text promises that 'nothing would be as it was before', but this is a lie. Not only is everything unchanged, the unfulfilled pledge alerts us to the fact. It is one of many false assertions in a novel that rests entirely on people telling stories (in films, novels and screenplays, but also to each other) yet repeatedly implies, seemingly despite itself, that words and stories have no real effect ... straight-forward, slightly humorous prose that characterizes the mildly postmodern picaresque, faithfully reproduced in Teresa Lavender Fagan’s translation – although fidelity to the original grammatical structure can lead to minor infelicities ... the aftermath of the Bataclan attacks comes across as a crude attempt to harness real people’s suffering for limited fictional gravitas, as does a short interaction with some asylum seekers.