By Jean Echenoz
With the delicacy of a miniaturist and with an underestimation that's either witty and clear-eyed, Echenoz bargains us an intimate epic: within the landscape of a transparent blue sky, a bi-plane spirals by surprise into the floor; a bit of shrapnel shears the pinnacle off a man’s head as though it have been a soft-boiled egg; we dawdle dreamily in a spring-scented clearing with a lonely shell-shocked soldier jogging innocently towards a firing squad able to shoot him for desertion.
Ultimately, the grace notes of humanity in 1914 upward push above the terrors of battle during this fantastically crafted story that Echenoz tells with discretion, precision, and love.
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Extra resources for 1914: A Novel
And then one quickly senses that they do not get along at all, they cannot even stand one another, which probably explains the strange ambience: that must be it. Until Blanche gets up, this furniture waits patiently to play its role. The night table—of beech—bears a lamp resting atop a few books, including Marc Elder’s The People of the Sea, a volume Blanche dips into occasionally, not so much for its stalwart capture of the previous year’s Goncourt Prize from a field including Marcel Proust as for her family’s friendship with the author, a local man whose real name is Marcel Tendron, and because this work reminds her of past Sunday excursions into the countryside to see the fishermen of Noirmoutier or barges moored for the estuary fishing of eels, lampreys, and elvers at Trentemoult, a village of fishermen and sailors on the left bank of the Loire.
The family had indeed hoped, thanks to the doctor’s connections, that by dodging the front Charles would be less exposed to enemy fire in the air than on the ground. The connections had worked, of course; everything had gone well: he’d been exempted from ground combat and reassigned to the newborn aviation corps—which no civilian could have imagined then would ever play an active role in combat—as if it were a cushy berth. Whereas that turned out to be a miscalculation: Juliette’s putative father disappeared even more swiftly from the sky than he might perhaps have done from the mud.
After the arrival of the last reservists, the territorials came in, nonprofessional soldiers organized on a local basis for home defense, old fellows between thirty-four and forty-nine years of age who were immediately called upon to stand drinks all around, and indeed, from Monday to Thursday those rounds came one after the other at a fast clip: by the end of the evening, everyone was somewhat the worse for wear. Then matters took a more serious turn when the squadrons were made up: Anthime found himself assigned to the 11th Squadron of the 10th Company, going up the chain to the 93rd Infantry Regiment, the 42nd Infantry Brigade, the 21st Infantry Division, and the 11th Army Corps of the 5th Army.
1914: A Novel by Jean Echenoz