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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Chopin's Move

by
Jean Echenoz


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Chopin's Move



Title: Chopin's Move
Author: Jean Echenoz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1989
Length: 135 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Chopin's Move - US
Chopin's Move - UK
Chopin's Move - Canada
Lac - Canada
Chopin's Move - India
Lac - France
See - Deutschland
  • French title: Lac
  • Translated by Mark Polizzotti; originally planned for publication in 1995, this translation only published in 2004
  • Previously published in the UK (1998) as Lake, in a translation by Guido Waldman

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Our Assessment:

B : decent homage to the spy-thriller, but neither serious nor playful enough

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
London Rev. of Books . 18/6/1998 John Sturrock
New Statesman . 3/7/1998 Nick Caistor
The NY Times Book Rev. . 25/4/2004 Caryn James
TLS . 12/6/1998 Dan Gunn
World Lit. Today . Fall/1990 Emile J. Talbot


  Review Consensus:

  Enjoyed it, found it cleverly done

  From the Reviews:
  • "In Lake Jean Echenoz offers a double pleasure. On one level, the novel works as a thriller - Echenoz has said how much he admires the work of Eric Ambler, for example, and his own intrigues, false leads, complications and climaxes perfectly mimic the genre. On another level, Echenoz constantly surprises with the deadpan humour of his description of everyday things (.....) Time and again, the normal is made strange, redolent with possible meanings that the human beings who sleepwalk among them are too myopic to see." - Nick Caistor, New Statesman

  • "(A) droll, tongue-in-cheek espionage novel" - Caryn James, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Like the elements in Echenoz's metaphors, his characters are brought together for the space of a moment -- for a moment in space -- and their connections generate sparks which send long and magical shadows across the haunting grey surface of the novel." - Dan Gunn, Times Literary Supplement

  • "(T)he engaging and arresting narrative has no message, or even a believable plot. It is a fast-paced thriller about spies who seem to have no objective other than espionage itself. (...) So too should Echenoz's text be seen as a game between author and reader. Both a postmodern spy novel and a parody of the genre, Lac revels in creating puzzles it does not solve (unlike the traditional spy novel, hardly anything falls into place at the end) and in creating characters it does not develop. " - Emile J. Talbot, World Literature Today

Note that the British reviews are of the Waldman translation, Caryn James' is of the Polizzotti translation, and Talbot's is of the French original.

Please note that these ratings solely represent
the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Chopin's Move straddles the divide between secret-agent thriller and a send-up of that genre.
       Entomolgist Franck Chopin, "a man of tact and science", is drawn back into the spy game when his special talents with flies are needed once again: he can outfit them with tiny microphones to listen in on conversations -- bugs as the ultimate bugging machines. Except, of course, that they're not. Even Chopin's first reaction toi the suggestion is: "You're joking." Obviously: "It's completely outdated. (...) These days they do it much better."
       But Chopin's the man they want, and his unique talent the only way they have of getting him. And so he checks into the Parc Palace du Lac hotel and sets his flies on the intended target, an economic leader from abroad, Vital Verber.
       Also of significance: the disappearance of Oswald Clair, who worked in Foreign Affairs. His wife, Suzy, crosses Chopin's path and makes quite the impression -- and so to him Oswald's disappearance isn't all that inconvenient.
       In Echenoz's novels disappearances are rarely as straightforward (or as permanent) as they might seem at first glance, and Oswald -- and Suzy -- wind up complicating Chopin's mission (and life).
       The spying (including with the unlikely and less than ideal flies) and the increasingly convoluted complications are entertainingly enough described. Chopin's Move is an unusual spy thriller, but adheres to most of the standards of the genre. Double-dealing and a confusion of identities and allegiances play out; not quite Le Carré, but engaging and amusing enough.
       Certainly, the greatest pleasure of the text is in the descriptions of the often banal lives described here, even as they are spying and being spied upon; there are far more longueurs (for them) than excitement, which Echenoz handles very nicely. Spying isn't romanticized: "even espionage can get stale, after a while. It's just that the trade has its monotonies and its chores" (so Polizzotti's translation; Waldman has it: "Even espionage proves all too soon wearisome. The spy's calling is not without its chores, its tedium"). But it's taken seriously enough, making for a modestly satisfying thriller in that regard alone. Ecehnoz's games around that help too, but he doesn't go far enough in his subversive mockery (or even just plain fun) in the story.
       A decent entertainment and affectionate homage to the genre, it's ultimately neither serious nor playful enough.

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Links:

Chopin's Move: Reviews: Jean Echenoz: Other books by Jean Echenoz under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Jean Echenoz has won numerous literary prizes.

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© 2004-2014 the complete review

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