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Jean Echenoz: L’Equipée malaise (Double Jeopardy)

A fast-paced novel with plot complications galore, lots of clever jokes and strange Frenchmen running around doing strange things. It didn’t work for me but clearly has for a lot of people. It all begins with Jean-François Pons (known as Jeff) and Charles Pontiac, who are both in love with Nicole Fischer but she has a child – Justine – by someone else and it all goes wrong from there. Jeff, now known as the Duke (he toyed with other names but decided Duke was best) is in Malaysia (hence the French title) running a rubber plantation and using the Aw brothers to help him with some heavy-handed tactics. Jeff’s nephew, Paul, together with his feckless friend Bob, are involved in gun-running with Plankaert and Toon, who work for the Belgian gangster, van Os, using the wittily named ship Boustrophedon and both, of course, are in love with the now grown-up Justine, daughter of Nicole. Complicated? That’s just the beginning.

While the French title focuses on the Malaysian angle, the English title focuses on Echenoz’ apparent obsession with twos – Paul and Bob, Nicole and Justine, Plankaert and Toon, Charles and Jeff and many more. Not sure what this proves, unless it’s something profound about the essential dichotomy of man, blah, blah. If you like fast-paced, witty, clever novels that play games with space and time, have major plot complications, black humour and linguistic trickery, then this is the novel for you. But not for me.

Publishing history

First published in French 1986 by Editions de Minuit
First published in English in 1993 by Godine
Translated by Mark Polizzotti