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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Queen's Caprice

Jean Echenoz

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To purchase The Queen's Caprice

Title: The Queen's Caprice
Author: Jean Echenoz
Genre: Stories
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 95 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Queen's Caprice - US
The Queen's Caprice - UK
The Queen's Caprice - Canada
Caprice de la reine - Canada
The Queen's Caprice - India
Caprice de la reine - France
  • French title: Caprice de la reine
  • Translated by Linda Coverdale

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Our Assessment:

B : nice small collection of largely occasional pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Figaro . 27/3/2014 Patrick Grainville
Le Monde . 10/4/2014 Raphaëlle Leyris
Publishers Weekly . 16/2/2015 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "L'écrivain musarde donc dans l'ubiquité. Dilettante documenté. Désinvolte et précis, vain et méticuleux. Acrobate et décadent, sauf à la fin pour prévenir les reproches." - Patrick Grainville, Le Figaro

  • "L'écrivain saute de l'un à l'autre avec sa nonchalance feinte et délicieuse, et les conduit avec une adresse qui se moque bien des caprices de la houle." - Raphaëlle Leyris, Le Monde

  • "Coverdale's ingenious translation, with endnotes on linguistic idiosyncrasies and cultural references, brings to life Echenoz's minimalist precision, ironic humor, and savvy choice of detail." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Queen's Caprice collects seven of Jean Echenoz's "favorite occasional pieces" (so Linda Coverdale in her Translator's Note), originally written and published between 2002 and 2014.
       In the short title-piece Echenoz writes:

It's just that one cannot say or describe everything all at the same time, can one. Some kind of order must be established, priorities set up, which can't help but risk muddling the subject
       To some extent, the pieces in The Queen's Caprice are variations on resolving that. 'Twenty Women in the Jardin du Luxembourg, Clockwise' is the most simplified, a brief paragraphs on each of twenty statues in the Jardin du Luxembourg, with brief observations on their coiffure, jewelry, and expression. So, for example:
     Marie de Médicis, queen of France, holds a scepter in her left hand and dangles a handkerchief from her right. Coiffure: curly hair puffing out at the temples. Jewelry: nothing to report. Expression: less than amiable.
       A much more expansive piece, such as 'Civil Engineering' -- at nearly thirty pages by far the longest in the collection -- would seem to stand in contrast to that. It appears to be a more rambling story of the wealthy, widowed engineer Gluck who spends his retirement traveling the world to see bridges, vaguely working on a history of bridges. But Echenoz's stories are grounded in history -- and usually specifics: in actual events, places, and people -- and this one is, too. The spring 1980 setting is a tip-off, but most readers likely have long forgotten (if they ever knew) the event which the story circles back to (it's all there in the opening, but the pieces presumably only fall into place for most readers at the very end). The narrative isn't exactly dry, but there's an almost neutral precision to it, befitting its engineer-protagonist, as Echenoz describes Gluck's wanderings, and his eventual realization that: "Bridges, always bridges, perhaps, in the end, that wasn't a life", and that he might enjoy some companionship or romance again. Out of this -- a narrative that seems at first to be largely a recitation of little more than facts (and manages to sustain that narrative approach to the bitter end, to devastating effect) -- , emerges a story of surprising emotional power.
       In her Translator's Note Linda Coverdale also prepares readers for how to approach the texts by noting that:
     The tension between story and history depends in part on the ability of the reader to catch allusions and follow undercurrents of meaning that are reasonably clear to French readers but may pass completely unnoticed in English.
       Her notes -- complete with the occasional personal aside ("Go figure") or suggestion as to what to 'Google' -- are indeed helpful -- though Echenoz's presentation is, in and of itself, impressive enough that even lacking any further understanding many of these pieces work well.
       Even where Echenoz's stories involve, at least in part, dramatic action -- the death of Lord Nelson; the disaster described in 'Civil Engineering' -- it remains almost incidental. Echenoz's pieces don't pivot around an event, but rather subsume it in a larger, more uniform depiction. It's an effective technique and while it may work better in the more expansive pieces (or, especially, Echenoz's novels), does on the smaller level too.
       If not full-sized servings, the pieces in The Queen's Caprice are certainly more than crumbs, and quite satisfying.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 March 2015

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The Queen's Caprice: Reviews: Jean Echenoz: Other books by Jean Echenoz under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Jean Echenoz has won numerous literary prizes.

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© 2015-2017 the complete review

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