6 September 2020

Jean Echenoz: Envoyée spéciale (2016)

In Lac (1999) Jean Echenoz wrote a kind of parody of the espionage novel, and after some time dabbling with biographical novels returned to espionage here, although with a difference, as it doesn't read as if it's a parody, and much more is involved here: the spy story just seems a starting point for Echenoz to weave a very complicated web in which the 'story' becomes a number of interrelated stories in which there are occasional digressions made gratuitously by the narrator, who is sometimes 'I', or 'we' or 'you', etc.

It's pretty impossible to sum this novel up without writing a great deal, and in any case that wouldn't make a great deal of sense because of its complex nature: there are a large number of character studies here, although that's the wrong expression because we only see parts of a person. Let's say we just see certain facets of the characters' personalities.

The novel begins with the ageing General Bourgeaud of some kind of secret police telling his much younger worker Paul Objat (later named Victor for anonymity) that he needs a woman, and Paul saying he does too, but that's being facetious because Bourgeaud's reasons are professional and Paul's are sexual. Yes, Bourgeaud needs a woman to spy, but a woman who knows nothing about spying. Paul thinks he knows the woman (although he's never spoken to her) and she (the paradoxically-named Constance) is kidnapped outside the Cimetière de Passy near Trocadéro – the first part is a second nature for those familiar with Paris – where the novel will end in a kind of circle via Creuse (the second least populated département in France) and Pyongyang.

Creuse is where we have the development of both Stockholm syndrome and its opposite Lima syndrome, where the abducted (Constance) sides with her abductors (Jean-Pierre, Christian and Victor), and vice versa. And things are in part played out in South Korea, where Gang is ready to defect, but.

There is a whole, er, gang of other characters here, killings, social bondings, eccentricities and so on, but I'll leave it at that or it might risk becoming too complicated. This is a gripping book, full of twists and turns, and has to be read in a short space of time or you might lose the thread(s).

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