The Idiosyncratic Fictions of Jean Echenoz
May 14, 2015 - table lamp
In 1941, during a German function of Paris, a French illustrator Jean Bruller found himself in hunt of a publisher for his recently finished romance “Le Silence de la Mer” (later blending by Jean-Pierre Melville as his initial underline film). Encouraged by his crony a author Pierre de Lescure, Bruller had assimilated a Resistance, and together a dual group strike on a idea, in a deficiency of an alternative, of environment adult an subterraneous press, that they called Éditions de Minuit. The subsequent year, a book, that centers on a cultured, maudlin Nazi infantryman quartered in a home of an aged Frenchman and his niece, who select overpower as a form of pacifist insurgency in a face of a soldier’s queries and soliloquies, seemed underneath a pseudonym: Vercors, after a Vercors Massif, in executive France, a Resistance stronghold.
With a assistance of a author and editor Jean Paulhan, a press went on to tell some twenty-five volumes clandestinely, among them works by Paul Éluard, François Mauriac, and Louis Aragon, that were upheld from palm to hand, mostly in a center of a night on a Paris bridge. After a Liberation, a editors motionless to continue along their comparison trail of resistance, edition usually a work of radical writers, whom they would not appeal but, rather, devoted would come to them. And so they did: Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Samuel Beckett, Claude Simon, Nathalie Sarraute, Robert Pinget, Marguerite Duras, and, many years and authors later, Jean Echenoz. As with Beckett, everybody else had refused a immature writer, so, as a final resort, he dared to proceed Jérôme Lindon, Minuit’s mythological editor, who snatched adult his novel during once.
I schooled a ubiquitous outlines of this story in a groundwork Fnac store during a Italie Deux mall, in Paris, by reading a bande desinée that prefaces a Bac Pro investigate beam for Echenoz’s best-selling novel “14,” published by a New Press as “1914.” (The book has entered a French canon: now teen-agers are forced to review it.) Meticulously researched and grounded closely in fact, a book is a retelling of a Great War, a initial “industrial,” and obscenely “experimental,” war, from a unaccompanied perspective. It’s too particular to be suspended underneath chronological fiction. Rather, it’s an practically philosophical novel, yet it competence not seem so during first, given Echenoz simply states facts, during a certain remove, as if by approach of a recording device. But, of course, that facts? And how to arrange them? In this regard, Echenoz’s impassive poetry and severe public concerning a pale theme move to mind a Objectivist producer Charles Reznikoff’s shining “Testimony,” only republished by Black Sparrow, that borrows from harrowing criminal-court transcripts to emanate a dour story of a United States between 1885 and 1915.
“1914” centers on 5 immature men, all yet one of them friends, who within a matter of weeks find themselves opposed a horrors of ditch warfare. By a finish of a book, all yet dual have been killed. The book is a cadenced, indomitable wake march, whose song comprises a appalling sounds that fight produces, including a sad, absurd sounds done by troops bands marching alongside a soldiers, propelling them on, as a mainstay of gendarmerie take adult a rear, staid to fire anyone who competence be tempted to desert—and who are “hated roughly as many if not some-more than a fellows conflicting a way.” The soldiers are prisoners of war, a gendarmerie their keepers. Sorry, pal: no exit.
The purpose of a gendarmerie during a fight was news to me, as it was to Echenoz when he began his research, and it’s one kind of fact that he elaborates. He also brings to a front some-more enigmatic sum that likewise strike their mark, such as a weight of an amputated arm (in this case, 8 pounds), or a essence of a soldier’s container (soldier’s ask book: check; pressed-iron mug: check) and what that container weighed (seventy-seven-plus pounds)—when dry. It was a totally conflicting matter when it rained, that it did, a lot. Another kind of fact, roughly equally sordid, in a way, emerges toward a finish of a novel. “We all know a rest,” a discarnate voice of a unfortunate anecdotist who comes and goes—a hallmark of Echenoz’s fiction—says. He goes on:
The initial dual months of a open offensives in a fourth year of a fight consumed immeasurable numbers of soldiers. The army’s faith on mass strategy compulsory a permanent replenishment of vast battalions, an ever-higher turn of recruitment, and ever-younger recruits, that ostensible a substantial renovation of uniforms and matériel—including shoes. . . . The gait and coercion of such orders, total with a unscrupulousness of manufacturers, led to a prolongation of controversial use shoes. A certain wickedness crept in per leather of so-so quality; scantily dark-skinned sheepskin was mostly selected, reduction costly yet common in terms of density and durability, and in other words, flattering tighten to cardboard. Laces were now block cut, easier to make yet some-more frail than turn ones, and they lacked finished ends. Thread was skimped on in a same approach and eyelets were no longer done of copper yet of iron—which rusts—of a cheapest kind available. It was a same with a rivets, pegs, nails. Bluntly put, they were slicing a cost of materials though any caring for a reduction and H2O insurgency of a product.
So: shoe manufacturers—profiteers of a Great War. (A span of soldier’s boots facilities on a Bac Pro cover.)
Echenoz has published fifteen novels given his first, “Le Méridien du Greenwich,” in 1979, his progressing ones hewing toward initial polars, or investigator novels, and other batch genres; his many recent, including “Ravel,” “Running,” “1914,” as good as his initial collection of brief pieces, “The Queen’s Caprice” (which has only been published by a New Press), form toward a chronological and biographical. (Endnotes supposing by a collection’s means translator, Linda Coverdale, offer ominous points of reference, and a pieces themselves, all of that were created on request, offer a window into Echenoz’s singular approach of looking during a world.) Still, Echenoz is perceptibly famous in a U.S., and not all that widely review in France, for that matter, notwithstanding carrying won many prizes, including a Prix Goncourt in 1999 for his farcical picaresque novel “I’m Off.”
One roughly embarrassingly pleasing late afternoon a integrate of weeks ago, we visited Echenoz, in his unit in a Ninth Arrondissement, in Paris. Tallish and blondish and pink, he greeted me during a doorway by smiling shyly and looking down, gesturing me by a slight corridor toward a carpetless, loft-like room with a kitchen during one finish and a marble grate during a other. we sat down in an superb upholstered chair conflicting a likewise superb sofa. He sat down on a sofa, conflicting a far-reaching stream of a unclothed potion coffee table. A hulk bend chrome building flare with a big, black shade hovered overhead. Echenoz was dressed in suède slip-ons, jeans, and a gray-blue string T-shirt with prolonged sleeves, pushed adult to exhibit an aged wristwatch. He crossed his arms and legs, and waited for me to contend something.
I asked about his story “Three Sandwiches during Le Bourget,” one of a many infrequently inspiring stories in a newly translated collection, about a male who goes looking for a sandwich in Le Bourget. He told me that he was asked to write about a Bourget stop on a R.E.R., a railway network portion Paris and a suburbs, for a collection that served as a kind of reverence to a late editor François Maspero, who years before had created a book about a stations of a R.E.R. “Late one morning one day, we only motionless to go there, and when we arrived we was really inspired and wanted a sandwich. So it incited out all right, as a kind of reportage absurd. . . . But we had no thought what a unhappy city Bourget was. we walked all around, yet once was not enough, so we went 3 times.
“It was really cold,” he combined with a laugh. “But we do this often, not in a suburbs yet in Paris. we travel around and take notes, to preserve a kind of décor. Décor is a engine of fiction.”
I mentioned his square “Twenty Women in a Jardin du Luxembourg, Clockwise,” that describes a postures, a clothing, a jewelry, and a coiffures of a statues of French queens over a ages, and offers a extemporaneous interpretation of a expressions on their faces, and he told me that years ago he wanted “to write about all a statuary in a garden. And then, well, it’s difficult . . .” He laughed again.
“You were innate in Orange—did we spend your childhood there?” we asked, speculating that a ancient city was somehow compared with his oddity about a past. (One of a pieces in a book recounts Herodotus’ revisit to Babylon.)
“No. we consider we lived there for about fifteen days,” he said. “My family wasn’t quite strong in one place. My father was innate in Paris, my mom in Marseilles. My relatives finished adult in Orange given it was a section that a occupying army had left. My grandfather was a alloy in Paris before relocating to Orange.”
“And we lived in Rodez?”
“Yes, given my father was a sanatorium psychiatrist. He was reserved to Rodez, afterwards to Digne-les-Bains, afterwards to Aix-en-Provence. Always in a South of France. So we upheld a biggest partial of my childhood in psychiatric hospitals, given we was a son of a doctor. But we have really good memories of that time, not during all dire memories. It was normal life, solely with people who were suffering, some-more or less, who were ill. But it was not during all like being in a trenches. It was only a hospital, for a mad.”
“Did we always wish to be a writer?”
“It’s really banal, yet yes. we consider given we review a lot as a child, given my relatives review a lot. we was surrounded by books. But, between essay and apropos a writer, that took a while. we was already thirty when my initial book was published.”
“Did we have a mentor?”
“A mentor: someone who—”
“Ah, non, non. Personne. Oh là. Mon Dieu. Quelle horreur.”