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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


We Three

Jean Echenoz

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To purchase We Three

Title: We Three
Author: Jean Echenoz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1992 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 144 pages
Original in: French
Availability: We Three - US
We Three - UK
We Three - Canada
Nous trois - Canada
Nous trois - France
Noi tre - Italia
Nosotros tres - España
  • French title: Nous trois
  • Translated by Jesse Anderson

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Our Assessment:

B : stylish oddity

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       We Three is a playful novel. The title suggests the love triangle that is part of it but, typically, it's an oddly shaped triangle, and only part of the story. We Three offers considerable action -- a major earthquake, complete with tsunami, in Marseilles, and then a space voyage for the main characters (yes, they go into orbit -- though only for a while). But down to its vivid last image -- or, right before then, the full-length portrait of Kim Jong Il one of the secondary characters is painting -- We Three often seems to revel more in striking, odd detail than those major events.
       There's a wandering feel to the story as, in fact, the characters are often on voyages of sorts. Early on Louis Meyer sets out for his usual vacation retreat to a friend's house on the Mediterranean -- only to soon enough find himself making his way back home after things are shaken up by the devastating earthquake. (Typically, too, Meyer is hardly devastated himself, and fairly calmly returns to Paris.) Later, the characters prepare for their space voyage -- a mission to repair a spacecraft and deploy some satellites -- and then, more or less uneventfully, undertake the actual space flight. Even the final chapter has one of the characters impatiently meandering as he kills time before a rendezvous: "Strategies don't pay off, always better to improvise", he tells himself, and Echenoz seems to follow a similar course: for all the possibilities of adventure -- the earthquake ! orbiting the earth in a spacecraft ! -- this is a surprisingly laid-back novel, not exactly without excitement but also not using the potential of these activities in anything like the most obvious ways.
       We Three also shifts its narrative voice and perspective, back and forth. Most parts of the story focusing on "specialist in ceramic engines" Louis Meyer are recounted by an omniscient narrator -- even as the first person creeps in from early on, for example with: "Consider for me this individual" in setting up a scene. Meanwhile, astronaut DeMilo ("diligent about maintaining this tanned California bachelor appearance") is in more firm command of his side and parts of the story, recounting them in the first person.
       It is these two -- with a crew of others -- that are brought together for the space mission, and they train and then make the trip together.
       Early on, driving to Marseilles, Meyer met a mysterious woman whom he dubbed 'Mercedes' because she didn't reveal her name, and he rescued her from the side of the road, where her Mercedes was going up in flames (and then, in the typically almost understated way of this book, explodes). In the aftermath of the earthquake they meet up again, and travel back to Paris together. Much to his surprise -- "This is unexpected. No one had warned him" --, she also shows up for the space mission, where she is introduced to him as Dr. Lucie Blanche -- a name familiar to readers because DeMilo, too, had mentioned her.
       Echenoz does atmosphere -- especially of the slightly mysterious kind -- very well here: We Three seems to progress completely naturally, even as so much that happens is actually extreme, or verges on the absurd (exploding cars, earthquakes, being shot into orbit and floating weightless once there). What develops also isn't straightforward, traditional romance; this part too is almost like mere incidental backdrop, even as it is so obviously unusual (especially given the situations the characters find themselves in). It makes for a story and a novel that is deeply evocative but packs most its power like the subterranean rumbles of the earthquake (including those early tremors -- ground-shifting but: "it's very subtle, and no one notices").
       We Three is a nice little work, in which it feels Echenoz is still trying things out -- ways of telling -- but most of which works very well. Sometimes he seems to be (over)indulging in the pleasure of telling, leaving story aside, but regardless, most of it is so good (with translator Jesse Anderson mostly coming to grips with it) that it's a pleasure, down to the asides at their tropical rocket launch site:

The heavy heat was accompanied by a heavy silence, which was sometimes crumpled by the passage of invisible animals through the depths of the vegetation, small or medium-sized animals, though sometimes producing a rather large sound. Armadillos and anteaters, tapirs and peccaries, whose stealthy bursts through the vegetative innards resounded like peristaltic waves, like elastic knots coming violently unraveled.
       An agreeably mysterious (complete with repeated Annabel Buffet-novel mentions -- you don't see that a lot), almost quiet -- and yet so action-filled ! -- novel.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 November 2016

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We Three: Reviews: Jean Echenoz: Other books by Jean Echenoz under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Jean Echenoz has won numerous literary prizes.

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© 2016-2017 the complete review

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