cover image I'm Gone

I'm Gone

Jean Echenoz. New Press, $22.95 (195pp) ISBN 978-1-56584-628-9

This fast-paced comedy of art smuggling and sexual vagaries won France's esteemed Prix Goncourt--with good reason. After leaving his wife, Ferrer, a middle-aged art dealer with a heart condition, travels to the Arctic Circle to recover ancient Arctic artworks from an abandoned freighter now frozen into the ice. After retrieving the relics, sure that they will make him a fortune, Ferrer loses them to a pair of particularly stealthy and prescient thieves. The novel then follows the soon-to-intersect paths of Ferrer and the thieves, as Ferrer tries to navigate several dysfunctional love affairs simultaneously. Echenoz's protagonist is the quintessential contemporary male, always in transit, always looking forward to the next thing, sometimes almost laughably skittish--the novel is as light on its feet as its narrator. The narrative skips between numerous locales, from Paris apartments to a seaside village in Spain to the barren ice flats of the far North, portraying each new place with a vivid sense of mood and atmosphere. Frequent changes in perspective force the reader to constantly reconsider the precarious position of Ferrer and the strange morality of the thieves. Echenoz (Cherokee; Big Blondes) invests considerable energy in descriptions of even the smallest details, giving such unlikely subjects as sled dogs or icebergs lives unto themselves without ever seeming precious. Combining the offhand wit of Raymond Chandler with the narrative agility of Peter Hoeg, he crafts a clever, philosophical tale. (Mar.) Forecast: I'm Gone is a bestseller in France and has been hailed as the author's best novel to date. If it gets sufficient review coverage, it could extend Echenoz's readership among literati in the U.S.