cover image Lac


Jean Echenoz. David R. Godine Publisher, $21.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-56792-054-3

It's hard to determine why this spoof of an espionage thriller won the European Literature Prize in 1990. As far as spoofs go, it's pretty good-but Echenoz doesn't really do anything that's not done by any of a dozen or so American writers of intelligent, ironic genre fiction. His characters are clownish grotesques with funny names; his language is rococo; his high-tech gimmicks are gags. Here, Franck Chopin, who flaunts yellow hair and a yellow suit, is both an entomologist and a spy-catcher. ``I'm only a technician,'' he says, offering the standard moral alibi of spooks. Chopin gets instructions from Seck, a mysterious colonel, via postcards with messages stashed in microdots over the letter ``i.'' Carrying his tiny wire fly-cages in a valise, Chopin stalks economic official Vital Veber to the sumptuous Parc Palace du Lac, an unlisted hotel where guests stay incognito. There he grafts microphones to his flies-who take on ephemeral mini-personalities-and smuggles them to Veber in a bunch of purple gladioli. Zany events pile up. Flies get swatted or escape through the windows. Chopin's girlfriend, Suzy, whose husband has been missing for years, turns up, surprisingly, as Veber's guest. Burly bodyguards, one a former Miss Sebastopol, kidnap Chopin and stuff him in a car's trunk. Echenoz's fondness for inventories (e.g., carrion at a slaughterhouse rendezvous) contributes to the novel's colorful, debris-strewn surface. As camp, as satire and as storytelling, this is very good, accomplished writing, but some of the over-the-top praise that greeted this novel in France suggests that Echenoz has some of that je ne sais quoi that makes the French pop their Burgundy for Charles Bukowski and Jerry Lewis. (Nov.)