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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


I'm Gone
(I'm Off)

Jean Echenoz

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To purchase I'm Gone

Title: I'm Gone
Author: Jean Echenoz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2001)
Length: 195 pages
Original in: French
Availability: I'm Gone - US
I'm Off - UK
I'm Gone - Canada
Je m'en vais - Canada
I'm Gone - India
Je m'en vais - France
Ich gehe jetzt - Deutschland
  • French title: Je m'en vais
  • Translated by Mark Polizzotti (published by The New Press)
  • A British edition was published in 2001 as I'm Off, in a translation by Guido Waldman
  • Awarded the Prix Goncourt, 1999

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Our Assessment:

B+ : surprising circular tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Science Monitor . 29/3/2001 Ron Charles
The Economist . 4/12/1999 .
Frankfurter Allg. Zeitung . 12/8/2000 Eberhard Rathgeb
The Guardian . 17/3/2001 Giles Foden
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 28/10/2000 Katharina Döbler
The NY Times Book Rev. . 25/3/2001 Paul Kafka-Gibbons
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction B- Summer/2001 Christopher Paddock
TLS . 19/5/2000 Alan Jenkins
Wall St. Journal . 2/3/2001 Christopher Caldwell
World Literature Today A+ Spring/2000 Lucille F. Becker

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, some distinctly unimpressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "But how declasse to worry about elements of plot. Some of these chapters are so aimless that even the narrator confesses he's losing interest. (...) And let's not concern ourselves with characterization -- tres bourgeois ! These people are psychologically blank, morally vacuous.(...) So, what's left in I'm Gone ? Wit. Echenoz's forte is an exquisite sense of comedy." - Ron Charles, Christian Science Monitor

  • "Mr Echenoz is foremost a humorist. Yet behind his seductive and delicately ironic prose hides a moralist who highlights the fake, the absurd, the loneliness of modern lives and invites his readers to laugh about it rather than at it." - The Economist

  • "In I'm Off, Echenoz continues to throw custard pies at literary norms, in particular the machinery of your average novel. But the custard itself is of a very high quality. (...) Echenoz himself is always writing with one eyebrow raised, especially when dealing with narrative time, which he handles as ironically as Beckett" - Giles Foden, The Guardian

  • "The novel's greatest virtue is its rapid pace, which slows only for moments of cafe observation and philosophy. (...) I'm Gone combines the policier, the cultural essay and the urban sex novel to create a vivid, entertaining hybrid." - Paul Kafka-Gibbon, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Unfortunately, this subplot feels both out of place and derivative, spoiling an otherwise deft wit and fine handle of exposition by Echenoz. (...) Powerful writing, indeed, but in no way complemented by the weak resolution of the recovery of the stolen art. Still, there is some truly excellent writing in this brief novel, and for that it is worth a glance." - Christopher Paddock, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "But fleetingly audible beneath or beyond the deadpan virtuosity and the jokes there is a pained note, a tiny diminuendo of bafflement and yearning. It has to do with the mechanics of consumption and desire, with our restlessness, our spoilt fidgeting for cash or goods or sex; most of all, it has to do with how the men and women in this universe treat each other, how what might look like tact may actually be indifference and what passes for self-reliance may in fact be closer to incomprehension." - Alan Jenkins, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Jean Echenoz, employing all the conventions of the novel while subverting them at the same time, has written a superb work, a contemporary slice of life transformed into a strange, often gloomy, often hilarious tale of adventure, mystery, murder, and mundanity. It is as amusing as it is affecting." - Lucille F. Becker, 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:

       I'm Gone begins with departure. Felix Ferrer speaks these words (well, sort of; see this note ) to his wife, abandoning her and everything they had together, withdrawing to his small -- and currently increasingly less successful -- art gallery. He leaves others, as well, such as his mistress, Laurence, while others close to him disappear, notably his associate, Delahaye.
       It is Delahaye who suggests a possible bonanza: he knows that a ship that got stuck in the ice of the Canadian Arctic decades earlier was carrying a trove of rare Paleoarctic art, and that it would be worth trying to recover it. Such an expedition is the logical conclusion of Ferrer's removing himself from all he knows, and he does set out on this adventure to the cold and almost uninhabited ends of the earth.
       Another character, calling himself Baumgartner, has different ideas. Even less rooted than Ferrer, moving from place to place, he also has a coup in mind. With the help of an assistant called The Flounder he's ready to meet Ferrer's success. When Ferrer does, indeed, return with the treasure, Baumgartner easily makes off with it.
       Ferrer's life doesn't spiral downwards, but things aren't looking good for quite a while. The financial strain caused by the expense of the expedition and the uninsured loss of the artefacts is troubling, and his artists aren't among the most inspiring lot either. Only in recovering the Paleoarctic goods does Ferrer find himself again on track -- and suddenly everything goes right again. And, eventually, everything comes full circle again.
       I'm Gone is an odd mix of crime thriller, adventure story, and satire on the contemporary art world. It's well presented, alternating chapters describing his expedition to the Arctic and the dissolving life he left behind, as well as Baumgartner's preparations and then the aftermath. Much is plainly unbelievable, occasionally, it seems, simply because Echenoz is too lazy to make his story plausible: the Arctic recovery goes much too easily, Ferrer doesn't insure the goods when he returns (though he's immediately advised to do so), or even properly stash them away. But it's a genial and pleasantly unpredictable story, and Echenoz has the tone down right. There are some narrative games here, including the author's voice popping up very loudly on occasion ("Personally, I've had it up to here with Baumgartner. His daily life is too boring.") but he doesn't overdo it, or stray too far from the story.
       A bit too simple, but still an enjoyable read.

       Translation note: In the French original, the opening and closing words of the novel are, like the title: "Je m'en vais". In the text, Mark Polizzotti has translated this (correctly) as: "I'm going". The title of the American edition is, however: I'm Gone. (Guido Waldman's solution for the British edition -- I'm Off -- seems a bit more successful.)

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I'm Gone: 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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