By Jean Echenoz
With the delicacy of a miniaturist and with a sarcasm that's either witty and clear-eyed, Echenoz deals us an intimate epic: within the landscape of a transparent blue sky, a bi-plane spirals abruptly into the floor; a section 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 thrust above the terrors of conflict during this superbly crafted story that Echenoz tells with discretion, precision, and love.
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Extra info for 1914: A Novel
And even a letter, from time to time. At the moment, I think they’re in the Somme, he’s not complaining very much. That’s fine, then, observed Monteil. Anyway, Blanche reminded him, he’s never been one for complaints, Anthime. You know how he is: he always adapts. 10 AS A MATTER OF FACT, Anthime had adapted. What’s more, even if he hadn’t, if he’d obviously been having trouble dealing with things and tried to tell anyone, postal censorship wasn’t a big help to anyone trying to carp. Yes, Anthime got used fairly quickly to the daily chores of cleaning, digging and earthwork maintenance, the loading and transportation of materials, as well as the periods in the trenches, the shifts of guard duty at night, the days off.
Charles’s house: beyond an ornate front gate concealing a garden one felt was flourishing, with well-tended flowers and lawns, a path led to a flagstone terrace set off by pillars flanking a double front door of polychrome stained glass, enthroned atop three steps. From the street, one could just make out at some distance the yellow and blue granite facade: tall, narrow, and, like its owner, tightly shut up. Three stories, with a balcony on the second floor. Anthime’s: this was a single-story house set closer to the street, with a roughcast facade, lower and more compact, as if a residence, like a dog, absolutely had to be homothetic to its master.
The cellars of empty houses had often been looted of everything but the occasional few bottles of Vichy water. The deserted streets were littered with divers damaged articles, and for the most part the troop left them lying there: unused cartridges discarded by a passing company, scattered clothing and linens, pots without handles, empty bottles, a birth certificate, a sick dog, a ten of clubs, a broken shovel. What also happened was that the situation came into yet clearer focus when rumors began circulating, especially about spying: a traitorous teacher had been surprised, it seemed, in this or that sector, preparing to blow up a bridge.