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 relentless—and, one hundred years later, still unthinkable—carnage 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.
"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
"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 pages—though again and again we pause to savor the richness of Echenoz’s startling, crystalline observations. Never a dull moment!"— Lydia Davis
"Echenoz picks out the absurd nuances of pop culture and twists them into a contemporary detective book. . . . A hilarious read."— Publisher's Weekly
"Rarely has the difficult craft of storytelling been as well mastered."— The Times Literary Supplement
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.