6 February 2015

Jean Echenoz: Ravel (2006)

Jean Echenoz's Ravel is the first of a series of three biographical novels, which were followed by Courir (2008) about the Czechoslovakian athlete Emil Zátopek, and Des éclairs, about the Austro-Hungarian inventor Nikola Tesla. The novel covers the final ten years of composer Maurice Ravel's life, from 1927 to 1937.

The book begins when the meticulous Ravel is taking a bath at his house in Monfort-l'Amaury (now a museum) before being driven by the violinist Hélène Jourdan-Morhange to the Gare du Nord to take the train to Le Havre and board the liner for the United States. Before embarking across the Atlantic, though, the boat makes a stop in Southampton, where Ravel briefly meets his friend the translator Georges Jean-Aubry, who gives him a copy of his translation of Joseph Conrad's La Flèche d'or.

Echenoz is noted for his preoccupation with movement, and the book lists the places visited by Ravel to perform, such as New York, Boston, California, Toronto, Montréal, and back to New York. When he returns home to France he goes off touring Europe, etc.

The friends and colleagues he meets along the way are mentioned, although Ravel was a solitary man who was troubled by, for example, insomnia, and various exercises he tried out are mentioned. There is a brief mention of Ravel with prostitutes, although this could be one of his jokes, but the novel stops short of any suggestion of homosexuality: a number of websites seem very keen to co-opt him into the gay community, although he was never associated with any sexual partner at all.

Ravel became unable to recognize his friends, his music, or even put a letter together without tremendous difficulty, and following a brain operation 'he dies ten days later, they clothe him in a black outfit, white waistcoat, stiff wing collar, white butterfly tie, light gloves, he leaves no will, no filmed image, not the slightest recording of his voice'. (My translation.)

My other Jean Echenoz posts:

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Jean Echenoz: Je m'en vais | I'm Gone
Jean Echenoz: Je m'en vais | I'm Off | I'm Gone (revisited)
Jean Echenoz: Courir | Running
Jean Echenoz: Jérôme Lindon
Jean Echenoz: Lac | Chopin's Move

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