cover image Running Away

Running Away

Jean-Philippe Toussaint, , trans. from the French by Matthew B. Smith. . Dalkey Archive, $12.95 (156pp) ISBN 978-1-56478-567-1

Set in China and the Mediterranean, this off-kilter novel from Toussaint (Camera ) explores the incommunicable experiences that alienate lovers. An unnamed narrator leaves France to spend a few weeks in China, where his lover, Marie, has real estate investments of a possibly illicit nature. Arriving in Shanghai, he is greeted by a business associate of Marie who later takes him to an art gallery, where he meets Li Qi, a Chinese woman with whom he establishes an immediate erotic relationship. She invites him on a trip to Beijing, and their attempt at sex—in the train bathroom—is interrupted by a call on his cellphone from Marie; her father has suddenly died. Bewildering experiences—including a high-speed motorcycle escape—follow, concluding in Elba, where Marie's father's funeral is being held. The juxtaposition of locales creates an intriguing dissonance, with Toussaint structuring his unconventional plot around climactic moments. His obsessive description, while sometimes beautiful, grows tiresome, and he occasionally lapses into purple prose. But with all its flaws, this remains a thought-provoking attempt and deserves attention from readers interested in experimental fiction. (Nov.)