A mystery that doubles as a sly work of serious literature.
Felix Ferrer is a middle-aged art dealer who likes to follow routines until the day he leaves his wife with the words, “You can keep everything, but I’m gone.” It's January in Paris; Echenoz has set in motion a story that jumps back and forth in time and among Felix and several people close to him who will disappear in the course of revealing a mystery. Felix will travel above the Arctic Circle on an icebreaker and bring home a treasure trove of ancient artifacts to try to revitalize his business. When his hoard of carved mammoth tusks, musk-ox horn and caribou bone is stolen by a finely dressed, cold and calculating character named Baumgartner, Felix’s life begins a slide into financial fear and bypass surgery. Along the way, he will fall in and out of several trysts with women who may or may not be connected to the heist. Womanizing, like his heart problem, haunts his middle age. Echenoz writes beautiful descriptions and chooses satirical details that poke fun at institutions and poses in our daily lives, including literary convention. This is not your mother’s crime novel. All is set before us by a narrator who intrudes with personal comments and amusing asides: “[D]aily life is too boring,” or “I who am here to tell you that Hélène is highly desirable.” What transpires in the end is a circle of mystery, a romantic romp and, ultimately, a perfect ending for Felix—almost. The next January restarts the cycle as Felix says, “Just one drink and then I’m going.” Again.
French writer Echenoz brings a revised edition of his 1999 novel to American readers with an introduction by Lily Tuck. The translation by Polizzotti is elegant, emphasizing the book's wry humor with economical emphasis. This novel is a quick read and a true jewel.