1914: A Novel

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Or is it? It begins with the initial calling to arms of all able men in France following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo earlier that summer. One Saturday in August, the central character, Anthime, is enjoying the freedom of a half day from work. The young accountant sets off on his bike, a robust model, made by a curate. Strapped to the bicycle is a hefty novel by Victor Hugo. Nothing is random in this intense, sombre narrative which is meticulous and precise, if warmly human. It is as if Echenoz is angered despite the passage of time, by the suffering, the pointless folly.

This tone shaped by a communal awareness will resonate; after all, as he reminds the reader, we know the story. As Anthime admires the beauty of the view, a hint of menace disturbs his thoughts and what is in fact, a false sense of peace. An excited crowd is gathered in the town square prepared to celebrate a great adventure. The tension between the two is barely suggested yet it is sufficient.

Echenoz seldom wastes a word.

by Charles B. Smith

Anthime is not so sure. In one of several set pieces the action moves to the barracks where Anthime and three of his friends are getting kitted out. They may as well be going on a camping trip. Charles wants to look well in his uniform and as expected, there is a girl to be impressed.


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Blanche is the daughter of the man who owns the factory, where both men, rivals and, as it transpires, brothers, work. The men go off to war.

Giovanni Pastrone: Cabiria (1914)

The captain does seem to harbour odd notions. Not for the duration of a sentence does Echenoz, ably abetted by his translator, Coverdale, allow his laconic narrative to falter. Mild mannered Anthime remains intrigued by the experience of being at war as long as it continues to be largely abstract and more involved with the additional weight the rain adds to his knapsack.

Suddenly this changes; blood and exploding bodies become a reality. It had been different for Charles. Influential contacts and his showy interest in photography had secured him a place in a biplane intended for reconnaissance. Elsewhere the war gathers an ugly momentum.

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Purchase from paperback. Indie Bound. Barnes and Noble. Jean Echenoz. Translated from the French by Linda Coverdale. News and Reviews Bookforum. This is a dummy description.


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An indispensable tool for teachers and students of American literature, Reading the American Novel provides a comprehensive introduction to the American novel in the post-civil war period. Locates American novels and stories within a specific historical and literary context Offers fresh analyses of key selected literary works Addresses a wide audience of academics and non-academics in clear, accessible prose Demonstrates the changing mentality of 19th-century America entering the 20th century Explores the relationship between the intellectual and artistic output of the time and the turbulent socio-political context.

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