Tues. Paris Reading Rec: BIG BLONDES, Jean Echenoz

Quite some time ago, I reviewed Jean Echenoz's novel BIG BLONDES for the NY Times. A send-up of thrillers and celebrity culture, it's not specifically a Paris novel--though it does spend plenty of time there--and it's not easily classifiable satire, either. As I note in the capsule review (which I resurrect below), it's often quite broadly played -- the big blonde of the title, Gloria Stella, is just one of many characters with too-apt a name -- which is why it's only after the remove of some years I realize how stealthy and sly this book is. To be fair, it took France some time to catch on to Echenoz, too: he didn't receive the Prix Goncourt, France's oldest literary prize, until a year or two after I wrote this review. I'm sure there's no connection. (This novel can now be found in a newer edition of three short Echenoz novels helpfully titled, THREE BY ECHENOZ. As a bonus, read this witty and smart take on Echenoz by Mary Hawthorne)

Delightful and decidedly goofy, Jean Echenoz’s novel BIG BLONDES (New Press, $22) has one at its center — the fleetingly famous chanteuse Gloria Stella (nee Gloire Abgrall), who fled from the public eye upon the suspicious demise of her agent-lover. Her seclusion is complete until a trash television producer named Paul Salvador picks up the trail while in pursuit of his two abiding interests: ‘’What ever happened to?’’ celebrity stories and the blondes of the book’s title. When Salvador’s private detectives begin closing in, Gloire reacts with feral rage, hurling one of her pursuers off a cliff and leading the rest on a chase from Paris to Sydney to Bombay. In Mark Polizzotti’s translation from the original French, Echenoz’s modus operandi is parody played so broadly it occasionally borders on farce; he delights in savaging mass media cliches like television docudramas or action-adventure movies. Though these are not new or difficult targets, Echenoz dispatches them with gleeful silliness. He doesn’t spare his own work in the process, using sporadic asides to treat his novel as cavalierly as any of his other subjects. ‘’We already know the deal,’’ he writes at one point, ‘’so let’s get this over with quickly and move on.’’ What’s not to like about such a considerate author?
— NYTBR, 1997