Yasmina Reza Featured Image

8 Must-Read Yasmina Reza Plays and Novels

Crafting deep meaning behind simple words, Yasmina Reza is a phenomenal French playwright, screenwriter, and novelist. She is widely recognized for her satirical plays and novels that narrate the struggles and anxieties of the modern middle-class.

Reza was born to Jewish parents who immigrated to France. Writing and acting has always been her top interests. So, it’s no surprise, she started her career by acting in many leading French plays. 

Yasmina Reza wrote many famous novels and plays and won the Molière Award for her first two plays, Conversations After a Burial and The Passage of Winter. However, it was her third play Art that brought this French writer the worldwide recognition she deserves.

In 1994, Reza received the Molière Award for Best Author, Best Play, and Best Production for her play Art. In 2005, she won the honorable Welt-Literaturpreis, a literacy award for her unique writing capabilities. She has also won the Prix Renaudot award for her novel, Babylone in 2016.

All men and women go through the same fog.

Yasmina Reza

The best thing about Yasmina Reza’s writing is that she understands the struggles and skirmishes the people of the middle class face. But, she portrays every aspect of life in a light-hearted way, delivering the message straight to the heart. Yasmina Reza constructs all the characters in her plays and novels with perfection. Every person fights the same battles a common man faces in the real world.

Here are the top 8 plays and novels by Yasmina Reza that you must read.

1. Conversations After a Burial

When my mother died, I was six . . .When my father died, I was eleven . . . From that day and ever afterwards, I confronted life, bristling with spines from head to toe, stainless and icy.

Conversation After a Burial book cover

This is the first play Yasmina Reza wrote in 1987 and received an award for it. It is a tragicomedy play that revolves around dry, dark humor with sarcastic undertones. This witty play revolves around the theme of death and sex. It describes a dysfunctional family that has no love for their father, who, it turns out, later on, was a loveable figure.

He is buried with copious tears, but afterward certain unexpected facts come to surface. I believe Conversations After a Burial is a wonderful family drama that depicts the harsh reality of society. It captures the essence of a family that has grievances against their father and how after his death that image alters in their eyes. 

This play is a perfect recipe for nostalgia, iciness, and impassive feelings that ultimately strengthens a weak bond. With dramatic events and sexual tension among the characters, Reza has beautifully sculpted the narratives and dialogues.Lizzie Loveridge in her review of Conversations After a Burial has given in-depth information about the characters and their emotions. I agree with her statement that the translation of this beautiful play could have been better, especially the dialogues could have been made to sound more natural.

2. Art

You take pride in your desire to shut yourself off from humanity. And you’ll never manage it. It’s like you’re in quicksand, the more you struggle to get out of it, the deeper you sink.

Art Book cover

Yasmina Reza is widely acclaimed for Art which also won her the Tony Award for Best Play. It is a comic story of three male friends who start quarreling over a painting. The painting in question, is a white blank canvas with random white lines. The disagreement turns into a serious quarrel as old friends start questioning their friendship, love, views, selfishness, and their relationships.

The play doesn’t revolve much around art, instead, it reflects on the fragility of the modern male friendship. According to the author, she chose men instead of women as ladies are far better at hiding and covering up their opinions. A man, on the contrary, minds his opinions and tries to impose on all.

Balancing on the fine beam of classicism and abstraction, Reza has wonderfully curtained the play with impressive language. She has phenomenally shaped a simple disagreement into an enervating, touching, and disturbing squabble. Art is a remarkably wise, witty, and intellectual comedy that irks fragile ego and nerves.

While writing the review of Art, Cerenteos have exquisitely defined the play. I can’t agree more with her statement that the play is all about human relationships, friendship, and understanding, all through the medium of art.

3. The Unexpected Man

A man made out of love of time and of loneliness has just been weeping in one’s iris for everything that is.

The unexpected man book cover

Writing dialogue is one thing, and writing thoughts that hit every chord of a heart is another. Yasmina Reza has achieved this feat in her play The Unexpected Man.

She started the play with a monologue of a self-absorbed author sitting next to a female fan who admires his work. As the events unfold, both the characters start to engage each other. They talk about the disappointments they have in their lives, their regrets, and how lonely it feels.

With a considerable amount of humor, love, and suspense, the theme of this thought-provoking play is loneliness and its effects. The play indicates how time runs out, eating us alive, and how cherished relationships can turn into repetitive and dull encounters. The melancholy of depression and insomnia with soft notes of lack of empathy is impressively narrated in the play.

I love how Mike Fischer has critically analyzed The Unexpected Man in his rational review. I agree with his view that Reza has transitioned from monologue to dialogues gracefully and with prominent command.

4. Desolation 

Life is our impatient desires. Reality is what has to give way. That’s my theory. The rest is women’s nonsense.

Desolation cover photo

Desolation was Yasmina Reza’s first novel. She brilliantly presented the reflection of an elderly man who is looking back over his lifetime. It is sarcastically comical writing that wittily captures regret, discontentment, sadness, and despair.

The story is about an elderly man who complains a lot and has issues with everything in his life. With an unenthusiastic approach towards life, Desolation is a dramatic monologue revolving around the aggressive rantings of a volubly discontented old man.

This compelling and sophisticated novel is full of rage and dissatisfaction towards life. In some way, we all can associate ourselves with the main lead. Because in our real lives we too are always disgruntled with our blessings and seldomly express gratitude towards life.

Merle Rubin’s review of Desolation is on point, presenting the case that Desolation can be a better play rather than being a novel due to its narrative style and repetition.

5. Life X3

I was thinking about the relative importance of things — about what’s interesting and what isn’t. Apparently, empty moments stay incised in the memory, trivial words can engage your whole being.

Life X3 book cover

Life X3 is a three-act play where all the scenes are played thrice with some modifications and alterations leading to different endings. Yasmina Reza has experimented with the domino effect in this play with unforeseen results. With impeccable comedy, twists and turns of events, Life X3 is a wonderfully narrated play.

The storyline revolves around a casual night that turned into a nightmare for the main characters when their guests appeared at their front door unannounced. With a dramatic construct of the play, all three possible scenarios of the night are presented humorously.

With Life X3, Reza has creatively used acidic exchanges of the characters to irradiate every person’s deep-down innate desire for acceptance and love. She has combined the art of comedy with different ideas to entertain the readers as well as deliver a sensible message.

Alistair Power critiques Life X3 that the first scene was funniest but the other two were not that comedic though the play was humorous altogether. The scenes would have worked better in reverse.

6. God of Carnage 

Women always think you need a man, you need a father, as if they’d be the slightest use. Men are a dead weight, they’re clumsy and maladjusted.

The God of Carnage book cover

The critically acclaimed play God of Carnage won Reza the Tony Award for the best play. With an insightful satire, this play revolves around anger, hatred, scorn, and wrath. It explores the dimensions of conflict with human nature that are filled with complexity and intricacy.

After their sons fight, two couples get together to resolve the matter peacefully. Ironically, the events that follow have no iota of peace in them throughout the play. The characters blame each other for failures constantly. The contradicting comparison of the opposite sex is also carefully elaborated on in this wonderful play.

In such a short time, Reza has pedantically wiped the so-called mask of innocence from the face of humans. She has innovatively demonstrated the fragile line amid civility and barbarity, that once crossed leads to disastrous and monstrous outcomes.

J. Peter Bergman in review of God of Carnage states that this play has all the necessary elements of laughter that relate to reality where the solutions to such situations remain ambiguous.

7. Happy are the Happy

Time changes everything, including the soul of a face.

Happy are the Happy book cover

Happy are the Happy is a dark-humored novel which has a collection of deeply sensitive interconnected stories. With no main protagonist, there are 18 characters throughout the book. Reza has explored the bond of love, marriage, romance, home, satisfaction, and family dysfunction in the modern world.

There are many interesting characters, from a squabbling married couple to a respected oncologist with a secret life, a playboy politician  and a loving couple with a mentally ill child. All the characters in the book are different but have only one similarity. They all are unhappy and longing for happiness.

The books’ main themes are wealth, status, sex appeal, and uneven distribution of wealth, all leading towards dissatisfaction and desolation. All the characters are somehow related to each other, all being vulnerable, exposed, and disappointed in their lives.

Gabriella Williams’ critically evaluates  Happy are the Happy and concludes that the novel has cynicism, aggression, higher tones of connectedness, with a well-balanced recipe of hilarity and sexiness.

8. Babylon

To have nobody is to have not even yourself. Somebody loving you provides a certificate of existence. When a person feels alone, he can’t exist without some small social fable.

Babylone book cover

Babylone is the latest novel written by Yasmina Reza and she received Prix Renaudot for it. The novel is decently humored with a slice of dark contemporary. The storyline proves an old statement, that a friend is going to help you to hide but only a great friend is going to help you hide a body.

The female protagonist literally helped someone in burying the body and scrapping off the evidence of a murder. The only difference is that the lead character helped someone who she barely knew. Critics call Babylone a perfect work of Yasmina Reza, comparing it to her successful play Art.

This novel is a mixture of spineless thriller tragedy that has notes of farce in it. Reza has meticulously summed up the lives of all the characters and narrated the awkwardness of human interaction in an entertaining way. She created a marvelous balance of a murder with a touch of humor and philosophical speculation.

The review of Babylon by Barbara Halla brilliantly explains how ordinary people can commit implausible acts of violence that lead to stupidity and insanity.

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January 2022