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un an

29 june 2018

Un an is a dark and wildly mysterious novella. On the face of it, Jean Echenoz's 1997 book has a close resemblance to Georges Simenon's Fuite de Monsieur Monde, where a Parisian also drops everything and lights out for the south of France, presumably the Parisian analogue to Huck Finn's "Territory." Though Victoire in Un an is more motivated than Simenon's Norbert Monde. M. Monde just runs away. Victoire runs away from a corpse she wakes up to find lying next to her in bed.

In both Un an and Fuite, the fleers drain their bank accounts, only to find their stash stolen soon thereafter. In each case, the theft is a cosmically freeing incident. Victoire, her resources used up, descends the scale of French material life, from cheap apartments to cheaper hotels to life on the road, on the rough, in the outdoors. She goes from restaurant meals to charcuterie-and-bread to dumpster diving, without a serious attempt at regrouping. Here she parts company with Simenon's protagonist, who easily finds work; Victoire instead cultivates a Robinsonade of the Global North, eking out life on the margins of postmodern affluence. When her money and welcome are used up, she decamps, and traces a drunkard's path of a journey (metaphorically) across the Midi.

What is she running from? Echenoz conveniently refuses to explain. Well, there's that boyfriend recently deceased in her bed, but there's the rub: while there might be lots of good reasons to flee that scene, we are very, very slow to learn Victoire's specifics. What we learn is that Victoire is the kind of person who, faced with a problem, bugs out. And unlike similar fugitives in Arto Paasilinna's novels, Victoire doesn't set about strenuously subsisting: she just lives on her savings till her savings are gone, and then lives on scraps.

Un an clocks in at 85 pages, unchaptered, headlong in its narrative. Available in German as Ein Jahr and in Italian as Un anno, among other languages, it has apparently not reached English. If it's available in a language near you, I would check it out, and I will refrain from spoiling it further with more discussion here.

Echenoz, Jean. Un an. 1997. Paris: Minuit, 2016.