Nominated by:

Bibliothèque publique d'information, Paris, France

Publisher of nominated edition:

The New Press, USA

Special Envoy

Jean Echenoz    

Translated from the original French by Sam Taylor

Jean Echenoz’s sly and playful novels have won critical and popular acclaim in France, where he has won the Prix Goncourt, as well as in the United States, where he has been profiled by the New Yorker and called the“most distinctive voice of his generation” by the Washington Post. With his wonderfully droll and intriguing new work, Special Envoy, Echenoz turns his hand to the espionage novel. When published in France, it stormed the bestseller lists.

Special Envoy begins with an old general in France’s intelligence agency asking his trusted lieutenant Paul Objat for ideas about a person he wants for a particular job: someone to aid the destabilization of Kim Jong-un’s regime in North Korea. Objat has someone in mind: Constance, an attractive, restless, bored woman in a failing marriage to a washed-up pop musician. Soon after, she is abducted by Objat’s cronies and spirited away into the lower depths of France’s intelligence bureaucracy where she is trained for her mission.

What follows is a bizarre tale of kidnappings, murders and mutilations, bad pop songs and great sex, populated by a cast of oddballs and losers. Set in Paris, rural central France, and Pyongyang, Special Envoy is joyously strange and unpredictable, full of twists and ironic digressions—and, in the words of L’Express, “a pure gem, a delight.”

About the author

Jean Echenoz won France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt for I’m Gone (The New Press). He is the author of eleven novels in English translation—including 1914, Big Blondes, Lightning, Piano, Ravel, Running,  Special Envoy, all published by The New Press—and the winner of numerous literary prizes, among them the Prix Médicis and the European Literature Jeopardy Prize. He lives in Paris.

(from publisher)

Librarian’s comments:

This truly original and funny novel is a creative re-reading of the spy novel, playing with the codes and conventions of this literary genre. It’s a mocking pastiche filled with irony, digressions and twists. Jean Echenoz’s fanciful imagination gives birth to a plot full of rhythm, unpredictable events and zany characters : an ageing general, a young and naïve woman trained to destabilize North Korean Kim Jong-Un, spooks and oddballs. The use of stylistic devices, verbal creativity, puns, tongue-in-cheek-humour, is typical of Echenoz’s narrative virtuosity. In 2018, the Public Library of Information ( Bpi) organized an exhibition dedicated to Jean Echenoz’s inventive prose and extraordinary fictional universe.

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