23. ilb 06. – 16.09.2023

Jean Echenoz

Portrait Jean Echenoz
© Roland Allard

Jean Echenoz was born in Orange, Provence, in 1947. He studied Architecture and Sociology. In the 1970s he began writing, and has published various novels since then.

Echenoz has been praised because of his particular narrative approach, which does not seem to follow any rules. In his books the boundaries between genres are blurred. He employs different styles, which make his work seem experimental or even avant-garde. Realistic stories often adopt a surreal turn. Yet, in spite of the confusion this might trigger in the reader, his style always remains light. Mockery and irony are important features in Echenoz’ fiction, his figures are often presented as parodies. Due to this sophisticated way of playing with language and genres, the writer has been labelled the French »Haute Couturier« of literature and a »master of the laconic detail«. For his novel »Je m’en vais« (1999; Eng. »I’m gone«, 2002) Echenoz received the Prix Goncourt. This is the story of a luckless art dealer in Paris, whose marriage fails, too. He therefore decides to leave his wife and travel to the Arctic, where he hopes to find a lost shipwreck with valuable art treasures. »I’m gone« is an adventure novel and at the same time a satire on today’s art industry. Echenoz’ book »Ravel« (2005) is dedicated to music. He tells the last decade in the life of the great French composer, and transcends the lines between fiction and reality. »Ravel« is neither a biography, nor a report and includes facts from Ravel’s life. It is a novel that, as the critics praise, teaches us more about the person than a biography could. Echenoz was particularly attracted and inspired by the aloofness of the musician. He presents him as the ideal type of the modern artist, who does not seem to have a soul and is almost like a machine without any features. Always restless he cannot find harmony. Echenoz was also fascinated by the 1930s, a period of technical and artistic innovation, and an expression of modernity, which is reflected in the book as well. In his recent novel »Courir« (2008; Eng. »Running«, 2009), Echenoz writes about the Czech runner Emil Zatopek. As in »Ravel« the story is based on biographical data, but is told in a very emphatic, non-biographical way. The novel »Des Éclairs« (2010; Eng, »Lightning«, 2011) completes the project »Three Lives« and is dedicated to the Serbian inventor and electronic engineer Nikola Tesla, whose biographical data Echenoz combines with the ficticious figure of Gregor. The genius of the century won the »war of electricity« against Edison, lived in the Waldorf Astoria, met Kipling and Twain, but fell in the end and became a rather cranky person.

Jean Echenoz lives in Paris.

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