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The Voyage of the Short Serpent Hardcover – Jan 10 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Books (Jan. 10 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585679208
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585679201
  • Product Dimensions: 12.1 x 2.1 x 19.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 272 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,553,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

A first-time novelist at 76, du Boucheron caused a literary sensation in France with this tale of a bishop's attempted reclamation of a medieval Scandinavian colony in Iceland. As the novel opens, Einar Sokkason, cardinal of Nidaros, learns that the Christian colony of New Thule has turned pagan. He dispatches Inquisitor Ordinary Bishop Insulomontanus to exorcise the colony with the aid of the stake, the wheel, the head vise, drawing and quartering, the slow hanging, and suspension from the feet or carnal parts. The bishop sets off peaceably in the company of the captain and crew of the Short Serpent, but as the Northern Sea freezes over, frostbite necessitates a few impromptu amputations. This turns out to be a prelude for what will come as the Serpent finally wends its way up the coast of the fjord, and the bishop is greeted by the curious colony of cannibals. Despite a competent translation, the cardinal and bishop's grave dictums are stilted, and the blood and gore titillate less than they bore. (Jan.)
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"An eccentric, slightly maddened and often brutally funny ...a tour de force."-The New York Times Book Review

"Laugh-out-loud funny and revolting at once...The writing is splendid, and this is a strangely pleasurable and completely riveting read." -Booklist

"A spare, cunningly ironic novel set in the wilds of medieval [Greenland]...Sparse, rawboned and fascinating."-Kirkus --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 9 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
So many levels of enjoyment Feb. 20 2008
By Jonathan Eells - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The obvious level at which one engages this book - the wry account of a petty church potentate's predations (multiple redundancies there, I know) - is quite good enough. But then, keep in mind you're reading a Frenchman's take on GERMANS and other Europeans, and on the Catholic Church, and it all gets WAY MORE FUNNY. I say this without reservation, and I am German m'self. A marvelous, short, skewering read that is well worth the time.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Vicious and Degraded April 19 2008
By Erica - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book is about the lost colony of Norseman in Greenland. It is apparently one of the mysteries of history - what happened to these people who existed for 500 years on the coast of Greenland and one day, sometime near 1500 AD, disappeared? Some say it was the cooling climate, some say they were butchered by visiting Europeans or the Inuit population, some say they left, some say they starved. Most say their somewhat rigid adherence to their culture, that of farming and strict religion, caused their demise.

This novel is about the journey of a Catholic bishop to the Norse colony. He is ordered there when rumors abound that the colony is succumbing to paganism and sodomy and incest - murder, fornication, hanging to get high, and every other sordid act of debauchery. The novel pairs vivid descriptions of starvation and privation and harrowing journeys over an ice-gripped landscape with equally vivid descriptions of the horrors of human culture gone awry - fornication, mutilation, murder, and excrement (hastily devoured by the desperate) - mostly told by the bishop himself, whose point of view is, at times, verging on the delusional.

I have heard that this book was made much of in France, for the particular reason that the author was 76 when he wrote this - his first novel - having worked most of his life in a decidedly un-literary administrative job. I am fully prepared to give it props on that account, since I seem to have spent my own youth uselessly and will no doubt continue to do so. I fully expect that I will not have accomplished anything of any note by 70, so this guy gives me a little bit of hope.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Short but sweet? Feb. 6 2011
By Kurt Switzer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like many stories of medieval Greenland, this was a pretty depressing read. It is told mostly from the viewpoint of the priest, with a few chapters from the captains side. In general the delivery was to the point and anticlimactic, so if not paying close attention it was easy to miss important story points. The hardship in reaching Greenland, and parts of the captains tale while hunting reminded my of the desolation in Dan Simmon's "The Terror". I enjoyed the translation, the dialog and descriptions having a decided old world feel. Too many historical fictions feel contemporary and detract from the story.
hilarious July 6 2012
By scott - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is possibly one of the funniest books I have ever read. It is about a man who at the request of his Bishop sets out on a sea voyage to a pagan land. He is religious only in word but never in deed. Nobody in the book is truly a good christian. The ending is unexpected.

If you are looking for a book that is easy to read and funny as hell, then this is a must read.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I Was Stiffed By The Short Serpent May 14 2009
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Why did I buy this book? Across the top of the front dust jacket reads "Winner of the Grand Prix du Roman de l'Academie Francaise" - one would naturally assume that the "best of the best" would be a good read, even in translation. Four of the five reviews on the back are all from France, the lone English one claiming "I'll go out on a limb and bet you have never read anything quite like The Voyage of the Short Serpent before." So I took the bait. Short answer: I *have* read several things like The Voyage and I think they were *all* better than du Boucheron's book. I ask myself why my opinion diverges so widely from the other reviewers... before I remember that France is the country that still fetes Jerry Lewis as a comic genius. Lewis is a fabulous entertainer, but he's not my idea of a comic genius... and du Boucheron isn't my idea of a Grand Prix writer. He's a very competent writer, and the translation appears excellent... but the story just doesn't live up to the hype. Or perhaps the translation didn't do the original story justice... but since I'm reviewing the English version of the book, they're equivalent. I'm not going to learn French just to read du Boucheron in the original vernacular.

I caught a lot of the symbolism... just look at the title! A book about "The Serpent" entering yet another unspoiled wilderness and wreaking havoc? Or how about the "shortcomings" of the bishop and the "Voyage" of his "Short Serpent" which spawned an illegitimate child? Its all in there, but to what end? Maybe I'm jaded because I'm surrounded by people equally amoral as the characters in this book; I've just survived eight years of Government-sanctioned amorality (Bush/Cheney - the Darkest Years of the USA). The atrocities in the book failed to move me. The symbolism failed to elicit more than a ho-hum. Other books excite me; I know it isn't a medication imbalance on my part... so that leaves the author/translator as the source.

My rule of thumb is simple: will I pass this book on to a friend with a recommendation that they *have* to read it, will I keep it for myself and make my friends buy their own, or do I pass this book on to the thrift store?

Sorry, I can't rate this one higher than thrift store fare. Can't recommend it. Can't keep it. Bye bye du Boucheron. Waste of money? Didn't pay full price for it, so I don't feel bad. Waste of time? Well... when I read a good book I carry away something worthwhile from it - something sticks with me inside, often forever. I didn't bring anything away from this book. When you expend time and effort, and when you're finished you have nothing to show for it, haven't you fulfilled the requirements for "waste of time?" This was not my all-time "waste of time" (See Illywacker) but "Serpent" does fall within that category.

End of rant.

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