A feminist inversion of a domestic drama crossed with Oulipian nursery rhyme, this novel by French author Anne Garréta follows the mania that descends upon a family when the father finds himself in possession of a concrete mixer. As he seeks to modernize every aspect of their lives, disaster strikes when the younger sister is subsumed by concrete.
... the line between written and spoken language deteriorates to the point of nonexistence, the two modes of communication flowing freely between each other throughout the novel ... This new work takes a new path, one that mines the experience of obsession and family, of entropy, and the ceaseless flow of time ... Garréta’s novel truly shines when the entropic nature is subjected to magnification towards the end of the work, as a means to explore how the decisions and nondecisions, rushed choices and cut corners, can misconstrue one’s view of the current of time ... The crystallization of this, the realization of the power of time and the acknowledgement from the child’s point of view of the limitations on modernization and, in this case, concrete, provide the ending that this entropic novel seemed destined to not find, and places Garréta as a distinctly talented writer of fiction, unlike anything else right now.
... a riot of wordplay and puns and grammatical tricks ... The narrative is located not so much in the father’s shenanigans or Poulette’s plunge in concrete as in the language used to describe them all—the language that is turned inside out and upside down on page after page as we are shown, again and again, just how inconcrete it can be ... Each word, re-routed, points to another possible sphere of definition.
... an uproarious cautionary tale/celebration of what can happen when a household is governed by a philosophy of extreme tinkering, written in prose that has itself been heavily hammered, soldered and jimmied into weird and wonderful shapes. The translator Emma Ramadan has clearly had enormous fun (along with not a few bouts of confusion and exasperation I would imagine) rendering it into English and the overall effect is Tom Sawyer by way of Molly Bloom ... The action is breathless, noisy and often grotesque ... Underneath the childish bravado; which includes a plethora of war metaphors, the narrator being an enthusiastic albeit selective student of history, Garreta has trowelled layer upon layer of linguistic, political and cultural symbolism whose subjects range from social inequality to homophobia and racism. While the tone of the novel is essentially playful, there’s plenty of profundity if you’re of a mind to look for it and if you find some of the set pieces described preposterous or are frustrated by that quintessentially oulipian trait of always going for one joke too many, ask yourself how much of the world around you isn’t shaped by one megalomaniacal tinkerer or another; you might well conclude that there’s plenty that could do with some serious waxing and buffing.