My second toe dipped into the water of the new French publishing season is the new Jean Echenoz, Courir, about the legendary 20th Century Czech runner, Emil Zatapek. The last novel of Echenoz, Ravel, was singled out by Gabriel Josopovici as his TLS "International Book of the Year" in 2006 and the new one has some similarities. It is a beautifully executed portrait of a man and his art (running where the last one was about composing) written with what Le Monde in its review calls sa manière élégante et joueuse – his playfully elegant style. There is an exquisite subtlety and pace and the driest and most delicate of ironies in Echenoz's unfolding of the story of this extraordinary athlete who broke all records, was fêted by the régime then sent to work in a uranium mine when he supported the Prague Spring. Disdaining style as a runner, his arms flailing like a windmill and his face contorted with pain, Zapatek's stolid determination [a metaphor for writing's solitary assault on the stark cinder path?] is conveyed by Echenoz in a style which, says Le Monde, weighs every word, if not every comma, with scrupulous exactitude.
Will it translate? One of the best contemporary French novelists, Jean Echenoz has been translated (though Ravel waits) once or twice but he is hardly a name to British readers. We seem to like our novels laid on with a wee trowel and this minimalist finesse is, perhaps, not what the British bookbiz scouts have been told to look for.