1914by Jean Echenoz, Linda Coverdale (Translator)
Jean Echenoz, considered by many to be the most distinguished and versatile living French novelist, turns his attention to the deathtrap of World War I in 1914. In it, five Frenchmen go off to war, two of them leaving behind a young woman who longs for their return. But the main character in this brilliant novel is the Great War itself. Echenoz, whose work/i>
Jean Echenoz, considered by many to be the most distinguished and versatile living French novelist, turns his attention to the deathtrap of World War I in 1914. In it, five Frenchmen go off to war, two of them leaving behind a young woman who longs for their return. But the main character in this brilliant novel is the Great War itself. Echenoz, whose work has been compared to that of writers as diverse as Joseph Conrad and Laurence Sterne, leads us gently from a balmy summer day deep into the relentlessand, one hundred years later, still unthinkablecarnage of trench warfare.
With the delicacy of a miniaturist and with an irony that is both witty and clear-eyed, Echenoz offers us an intimate epic: in the panorama of a clear blue sky, a bi-plane spirals suddenly into the ground; a piece of shrapnel shears the top off a man’s head as if it were a soft-boiled egg; we dawdle dreamily in a spring-scented clearing with a lonely shell-shocked soldier strolling innocently toward a firing squad ready to shoot him for desertion.
Ultimately, the grace notes of humanity in 1914 rise above the terrors of war in this beautifully crafted tale that Echenoz tells with discretion, precision, and love.
Praise for 1914:
"Echenoz's nod to the powerlessness of ordinary people caught in the first great modern cataclysm is a veritable monument to human dignity."
Gary Indiana, Bookforum
"This new novel from Jean Echenoz concentrates and synthesizes the quintessence of his writing."
Praise for Jean Echenoz:
"One of the best storytellers among the 'serious' novelists of his generation."
"Echenoz is one of the contemporary literature’s rare graceful magicians. . . . He might easily be located in the post-human environs of Michael Houellebecq [and] Haruki Murakami."
"A gentle tending to perversity links Echenoz to that other master of the perverse detail, Vladimir Nabokov."
Los Angeles Times
"Every word is perfectly placed; the writing is fluid . . . like a garment that fits perfectly even inside out..."
"The most distinctive voice of his generation and the master magician of the contemporary French novel."
The Washington Post
"Writing lives! [Echenoz’s] words are full of grace and surprises, and he has the ability to throw relationships among them just off-center enough to make the images or people they convey seem all the more compelling and fresh."
The New York Times Book Review
"A writer at the top of his form . . . his style is, as usual, impeccable, full of finesse and promise."
"[O]ne of the best storytellers among the “serious” novelists of his generation. . . . Echenoz has shown that an attention to novelistic intrigue is by no means incompatible with an experimentalist impulse."
"Against a pungently evoked French landscape, figures both comical and grotesque move through a magic-lantern adventure story at a pace that keeps us turning the pagesthough again and again we pause to savor the richness of Echenoz’s startling, crystalline observations. Never a dull moment!"
"A humanist rewriting Foucault with a satirist’s wit, Echenoz deftly and amusingly meditates on who we are and what defines us."
"Echenoz employs almost no dialogue and nothing that departs from known facts in this tiny miracle of a biographical novel, which begins dryly and builds to a shattering, but still contained and elegant, emotional climax, like a Ravel masterpiece."
"This is a wholly unsentimental portrait of a freaky inventor. Our sympathy is not required; all Echenoz requires is our attention, which he secures through his lapidary prose, buffed to a high gloss in this excellent translation."
"Echenoz picks out the absurd nuances of pop culture and twists them into a contemporary detective book. . . . A hilarious read."
"Rarely has the difficult craft of storytelling been as well mastered."
The Times Literary Supplement
"Jean Echenoz has a terrific sense of humor tinged with existential mischief. . . . An author in total control of his material."
"His realism is innocent, meticulous, ironic. . . . Seldom is a narrative so well constructed."
"[A] fascinating portrait of a musical genius, a strange and lonely character who was never at peace with himself."
"Vivid and extraordinary."
"Dazzling, meticulous, and somber."
Four young Frenchmen confront the grim reality of trench warfare in a spare, elliptical novel from Goncourt-winner Echenoz (Lightning, 2011, etc.). We see just what they are leaving behind in the idyllic scene that opens the book, as Anthime bicycles in the hills of the Vendée region, pausing to view a panorama of pastures and villages under the August sun. Then the church bells begin ringing, and he returns to the town square to learn that war has been declared. "It won't last longer than two weeks," says his intimidating brother Charles, but of course, readers know better. We follow Anthime and his pals Padioleau, Bossis and Arcenel to the barracks (where arrogant Charles commandeers the best-fitting uniform) and on parade past cheering citizens. They include Blanche, whose family runs the factory where Anthime and Charles work; both brothers are in love with her, but she prefers Charles. It's a nasty twist of fate that Blanche's successful attempt to get Charles transferred away from danger in the infantry results in his death in a plane crash, leaving her to bear his child alone and unmarried in January. Bogged down in the trench line that "had suddenly congealed…from Switzerland to the North Sea," Anthime is congratulated by his comrades on losing his arm to a piece of shrapnel; it's a "good wound" that will extricate him from the senseless bloodshed Echenoz matter-of-factly describes. His companions fare less well: Bossis is gruesomely killed, Arcenel shot for desertion and Padioleau is blinded by gas. As the author himself remarks, "[a]ll this has been described a thousand times," and Echenoz doesn't offer anything new in the way of character or insight to justify his retelling, though his restrained, elegant prose (nicely translated by Coverdale) remains a pleasure. A readable fictional introduction to the Great War for those who know nothing about it but inessential for anyone who's read Ernest Hemingway or John Roderigo Dos Passos.
Celebrated French author Echenoz (Ravel; Lightning) turns his attention to World War I in this short novel about two brothers who go to war and the woman they leave behind. Young Anthime has previously only existed in the shadow of his charismatic older brother Charles, but the losses he sustains in the war permanently change how he views both himself and the life he's led. Meanwhile, Blanche, the woman both brothers love, waits to discover whether either will be coming home to her. VERDICT Echenoz memorably captures the grotesque facts of life in the trenches in economical prose that combines vivid sensory images with moments of biting dark humor. The book's primary power lies not in its plot or its characters but in the skill with which the author transports the reader to the front lines in scenes mixing a wry, conversational narrative style with meticulously described details: the precise weight of a knapsack, the deafening sound of shells overhead, the inescapable stench of rotting corpses. A short but immersive read.
- New Press, The
- Publication date:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 9.00(w) x 6.40(h) x 0.60(d)
Meet the Author
Jean Echenoz won France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt for I’m Gone (The New Press). He is the author of six other novels available in English and the winner of numerous literary prizes, among them the Prix Médicis and the European Literature Jeopardy Prize. He lives in Paris. Linda Coverdale’s most recent translation for The New Press was Jean Echenoz’s Lightning. She was the recipient of the French-American Foundation’s 2008 Translation Prize for her translation of Echenoz’s Ravel (The New Press). She lives in Brooklyn.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
A great novel, brisk, clear writing. The war experience through the tight frame of individuals caught in its wake . And a French perspective. Finished it in a few days.