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5.0 out of 5 stars Wicked Prose, December 13, 2004
This review is from: ABOUT FACE (Paperback)
Wicked prose

It's not that I don't like poetry. It's just that I can't actually seem to read it. For dunces of verse like me Cecile Rossant's About Face can come in quite handy. This eclectic jumble of short fiction, ranging in length from three and a half lines to 23 pages, sucks you in under the pretence of being short stories and before you know it, lo-and-behold, you realise you're reading a poem. It may not always look like a poem, or even sound like one, but Rossant's writing is so beautiful, so lyrical that by the end of the collection there is no doubt: poetry it must be.

Cecile Rossant grew up and studied in New York and has now been living in Berlin for eight years. She stands out in the mass of aspiring English-language authors in the city in that she can actually write. In fact, as a qualified architect, with a degree in biology, who also throws together the occasional sculpture, there doesn't seem much that this woman can't do. But it's writing that Rossant is now focusing on with her short fiction debut.

These stories are about as indecent and shocking as your dreams: Death, sex, violence and illicit yearnings. This is a world where women are brought to orgasm by corpses' sawn-off fingers and your lover can die after a post-coital snooze. And even more surprising is that all this is recounted in a tone often verging on the hilarious. I didn't know it was even possible to pour scorn on the sex industry and be witty at the same time. After reading "The Tuna Club" and "Appropriate Actions" I now see it is. In other stories, such as "She Twists to Position Her Face", Rossant demonstrates such empathy for the fat and the unattractive that by the end you will never make fun of the audience of Jerry Springer again. And in the excellent "Horizontal Damage" you are brought closer to the Holocaust in six pages than Stephen Spielberg managed in one-and-a-half hours.

But be warned: like dreams, these stories are also hard to read. For some of them, you have to be either heavily into Cocteau or really in the mood. Even then, page after page describing the skinning of a chicken, as in "The Belly of a Bird", can prove somewhat of a strain. And don't expect clear hints as to what, if any, the story is. Because you won't always get them. There were moments when I couldn't help but wonder if I was in competition with the author to prove who was the cleverer: her for writing it, or me for grasping the point. She might have won. But I enjoyed the game. So forget your pre-conceptions about narrative and just roll with the beauty of the language. A rewarding, at times delectable, dream-like experience which stays with you long after you think you've woken up.
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About Face
About Face by Cecile Rossant
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