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SPECIAL ENVOY by Jean Echenoz


by Jean Echenoz ; translated by Sam Taylor

Pub Date: Nov. 7th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-62097-312-7
Publisher: The New Press

A shaggy tale that blends spy-novel pastiche with today’s headlines.

A certain Arkansas-bred Hollywood player ought to be sending a thank-you note to Echenoz (I’m Gone, 2014, etc.) right about now; the French novelist mentions him a couple of times in connection with his antiheroic hero Paul Objat, whose half-grin is “a little bit like the actor Billy Bob Thornton’s smile.” Besides having that going for him, Objat is pretty good at kung fu, fighting off ninjas with aplomb, and “overpowering the black overalls while ignoring their raucous insults.” We meet Objat in the presence of a French general who wouldn’t be out of place in Day of the Jackal—on the side of the bad guys, probably—and who has hatched a cherchez la femme plot that quickly spirals out of control: “I want a woman,” he declares. Objat obliges by stealing one for him. The woman he delivers is nubile, tactile, and even ductile (“I don’t know that adjective,” Objat protests). It turns out that she is also resourceful and smarter than her captors, which comes in handy when the novel changes settings from Paris and then the rural Massif Central and wanders over to Pyongyang, North Korea, and a wacky plot to hustle one of the Kim regime’s generals across the border and into the happy world of capitalism. Nothing quite works the way it’s supposed to; think Casino Royale by way of Diva and maybe with a little Georges Perec thrown in as leavening. Amid the globe-hopping and bed-hopping, Echenoz serves up a nice postmodern sendup of world events, and though he seems a little too pleased at his cleverness and constant fourth-wall-breaking (“It’s been a long time since we saw General Bourgeaud, hasn’t it?”), the yarn is a pleasing enough confection, if a little soufflélike.

Fans of Echenoz will recognize his signature playfulness and affection for the offbeat caper—in this case, one that won’t please the brass in Pyongyang.