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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Big Blondes

Jean Echenoz

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To purchase Big Blondes

Title: Big Blondes
Author: Jean Echenoz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1995 (Eng. 1997)
Length: 201 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Big Blondes - US
Big Blondes - UK
Big Blondes - Canada
Les Grandes blondes - Canada
Big Blondes - India
Les Grandes blondes - France
Die großen Blondinen - Deutschland
Le biondone - Italia
  • French title: Les Grandes blondes
  • Translated by Mark Polizzotti

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Our Assessment:

B- : some fun, but unnecessarily outlandish

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 5/6/2003 Georg Diez
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 9/7/2002 Thomas Laux
The NY Times Book Rev. A 29/6/1997 Liam Callanan
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/1998 Susan Ireland
Die Welt A 13/7/2002 Jochen Förster
World Literature Today . Summer/1996 Steven Daniell

  Review Consensus:

  Almost all thought it was a lot of fun and well done.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Aus den grauen Plastikwelten der französischen Vorstädte speist sich das Personal dieses Buchs, Supermarktexistenzen, stapelbare Charaktere -- aber was sich als avanciertes unpsychologisches Erzählen gibt, ist hier im Resultat nur belanglos und läppisch." - Georg Diez, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Delightful and decidedly goofy (...) In Mark Polizzotti's translation from the original French, Echenoz's modus operandi is parody played so broadly it occasionally borders on farce." - Liam Callanan, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Big Blondes is a quintessential Echenoz novel (...) Mark Polizzotti’s fine translation does an excellent job of capturing Echenoz’s hallmark style; his clever wordplay, unexpected turns of phrase, and idiosyncratic humor. In short, Big Blondes is a must for anyone with a taste for zany thrillers that combine social satire and love stories with a good dose of farce." - Susan Ireland, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "Doch trotz solch vordergründiger Brisanz -- wie immer bei Echenoz reizen weniger die Erzählstoffe als die spielerische Süffisanz ihrer Verknüpfung. Diesmal besonders. Es ist, als zelebriere Echenoz jede seiner Lieblingsideen" - Jochen Förster, Die Welt

  • "Although Les grandes blondes is not a thematic tour de force (few detective novels are), it is a well-crafted study in characterizations and interpersonal relations and an excellent example of the humorous potentials of the genre." - Steven Daniell, World Literature Today

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:

       In Big Blondes TV producer Paul Salvador is working on a project, a series about:

tall blonde women in the movies, in the arts in general, and more broadly, in life. Their histories, their characters, their roles. Their specialties and their variations. Their whole significance in five-times-fifty-two minutes.
       The last episode is to be a case study, of "a bizarre tall blonde". The woman he has in mind is Gloire Abgrall, who, under the name Gloria Stella, enjoyed fleeting success and then notoriety a decade earlier. A teenage model, she recorded two 45s, one of which made it to number three on the hit parade, and was well on her way to some sort of stardom. But then her "lover-cum-agent" fell down an elevator shaft, and she was convicted of giving him the fatal push. After five years in jail she was released, and disappeared. And Salvador sets out to find her.
       He hires a detective agency to track her down. The first detective they send isn't very good. He does run into Gloire, but she still has a penchant for pushing men over cliffs and the like so that doesn't work out well. She realises someone is after her, and that confrontation can keep them at bay for so long, and so she makes a run for it. She goes to Australia and India, she has some wild adventures. Men get pushed, drugs and other goods get (ingeniously) smuggled, she gets followed -- but generally remains a step or two ahead of her pursuers. Eventually everyone gets pretty much what they want.

       Big Blondes is an odd book. Gloire isn't allowed to be simply pathological; instead, Echenoz saddles her with a creature named Beliard, "a skinny little brunette, about a foot tall". Readers are told:
     At best, Beliard is an illusion. At best he is an hallucination forged by the young woman's deranged mind. At worst, he is a kind of guardian angel, or at least can claim some kinship with that congregation. Let us envision the worst.
       Beliard conveniently (and inconveniently) pops up at times that are stressful for Gloire, but he's an annoying device who doesn't really serve his (fictional) purpose well. In a story filled with the bizarre, with wild adventures and encounters all across the globe, he's an unnecessary and unappealing complication.
       The novel shifts between a number of characters, from Salvador to Gloire to the various people on her trail, making for an often annoying lack of focus. In addition, there are strange shifts in tone in the writing itself, again to little end.
       The story begins in the second person, the opening sentence insisting: "You are Paul Salvador", but already three paragraphs later the reader is disembodied, and Salvador strolls off on his own ("Arriving particularly early that day, Salvador first walked around the large black and white building", etc.). It makes no sense and serves no purpose other than to irritate (and it's a game he repeats: "And the next day, you are someone looking for Paul Salvador" another chapter starts ...).
       There's a decent story buried in all this. Echenoz does some of the episodes very well, particularly Gloire's encounters with the various men she meets. But he twists the tale too forcefully, playing narrative games without much payoff and making for an ultimately disappointing read. (The book is also apparently meant to be funny, satirising pop culture, the idea of the blonde woman, the detective novel. Bits are funny, but clumps of it aren't, and the book doesn't work very well as satire.)

       (Translation may also be a problem throughout the book -- beginning with the title: the book is called Big Blondes, but in the text itself the expression (the nicely rhyming "grandes blondes" of the French title) is translated as "tall blondes".)

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Big Blondes: 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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© 2004-2017 the complete review

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