Roxane's Reviews > Liliputia

Liliputia by Xavier Mauméjean
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's review
Sep 11, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: speculative-fiction, french
Read in October, 2008

Like most of the Interstices collection (Calmann-Lévy publisher), Lilliputia is a novel difficult to place in one single category. It's as much affiliated to urban fantasy, historical fiction, mythology or the tale genre. According to fans, Lilliputia is Xavier Mauméjean's best work yet. I wouldn't know since, though I'd heard about him for years, it's the first piece of fiction by him that I've read (besides a short story published on Utopod). So far, I must say that I admire his soft and subtle style, his weird sense of humor and the gravity and complexity of the themes he broaches.

USA. Early 20th century. Taken away from his natal Europe, Elcana is forced to join the amusement park Dreamland. He is to live in the town of Lilliputia where hundreds of other little men and women like him have already been rounded up. The men who kidnapped Elcana have been travelling the world in search of these little people, carefully selecting those that are not dwarves but true Lilliputians with proportions similar to adults'. As soon as the park opens, American families rush in to spy and go oh and ah on Elcana and his fellow Lilliputians. During opening hours, the Lilliputians' lives are carefully orchestrated so as to fulfill Americans' need for entertainment. Considered as little more than freaks, the Lilliputians have no choice but to endure the humiliation and abasement of their situation. They are waiting for a saviour. Is Elcana the fire fighter, the bearer of fire, to be this liberator?

Xavier Mauméjean who is very fond of philosophy and mythology offers us an interesting and smart retelling of the Greek myth of Prometheus who stole fire from the Gods and brought it to humanity. His punishment consisted in having his liver eaten by an eagle every single day for the rest of eternity as it regrowed over night. One better understands, the novel's main character, Elcana's liver issues throughout the book.

But the historical background is just as important as the mythical elements. Mauméjean sets his narration in the early days of modern America, at a time when the country strives for progress, industrialization, money and entertainment. The grotesque aspect of the novel, impersonated by the voyeurism of Americans, is not without reminding us of Tod Browning's Freaks (1932).

The many references, more or less easy to spot, greatly participate in giving the novel its complexity, nuances, layers and richness... and they also make it all the more difficult to categorize it. In the end, it's all up to the reader: urban fantasy? historical fiction with a mythological twist? Whatever you choose, you can't deny that it's a wonderful stylistic and literary achievement.

I think it's a nice place to start reading Mauméjean. For all its depth and complexity, the novel's greatest success rests perhaps in its capacity to adapt to its reader. If you know nothing about Greek mythology, early American 20th century or Tod Browning, you will still enjoy this novel. Chances are, it's even going to make you curious.

Lilliputia is a highly recommended weird, accessible and rich read.
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