Jean Echenoz: Le Méridien de Greenwich [The Meridian of Greenwich]
Echenoz’ first novel sold barely 500 copies and nearly ended his career as a writer. It is a massive pastiche of American detective stories and American films and it is great fun – if you can follow the plot. Everything seems to centre around a Pacific island off the coast of Midway and involves various characters with improbable American names (Raph (sic) and Buck, Byron Caine) or with names straight from American films (Caspar Gutman (from The Maltese Falcon) and Arbogast (from Psycho) and even a name from the British royal family (Armstrong Jones).
This tongue-in-cheek naming gives a clue to the tongue-in-cheek plot as a bunch of low-lifes chase each other round the world. It is not always clear why they are doing what they are doing. Théo Selmer, for example, did not seem guided by any particular destination in particular. He let himself walk rather than walking himself. He had worked as an interpreter at the UN, leading a fairly quiet life, except for his interest in guns. One day, while interpreting a rather boring conference on apartheid, he suddenly stopped interpreting and ate his hot dog. While all the francophones pressed the earphones to their ears to try and hear something, he blew up the paper bag his hot dog had been in and burst it in the microphone and then walked out never to return. The fact that he ends up going to the North Pole with one of the other characters only adds to the confusion. And confusion is what this novel is about. If you enjoy detective stories where you are not sure who is doing what to whom, you will love this book. It is very funny, very confusing but highly enjoyable, even if, like me, you are not sure what actually happened to whom.
First published in French 1979 by Editions de Minuit
No English translation