Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

George Chave

George Chave (shahv), the protagonist. A tall, thin man in his thirties, he is looking for work as a way to please his girlfriend, Veronique, but he soon shifts his devotion to Jenny Weltman. Hired as a detective, he arouses the envy of other employees by finding a lost wife and a lost parrot. As unexplainable events take place around him, he is pursued by the police, hidden by friends, kidnapped, taken by a cult, and finally united with Jenny.

Fred Shapiro

Fred Shapiro, a mysterious businessman. An expensively dressed man of thirty-eight, he is balding and has a hooked nose. A distant cousin and childhood playmate of George, he had long ago incurred George’s dislike when he did not return a rare, borrowed record of “Cherokee.” When George encounters him again, Fred is able to suggest a job opening. Later, Fred kills his uncle, Fernand; becomes the leader of the Rayonite cult; seizes George for use in their rituals; and kills a policeman who is storming their stronghold. At the end of the novel, Fred is driving the car containing George and Jenny.


Croconyan (kraw-KAHN-yehn), a thief. A large, short-haired man, he is strong and resourceful. After George aids him in a bar fight, he becomes a loyal friend, first hiding him in Paris and later joining him in the Alpine retreat.

Ferguson Gibbs


(The entire section is 518 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Because the characters are observed objectively, seen as they would be by the viewer of a film, their appearance and their clothing are fully described, while their thoughts and their motivations are usually masked, unless they happen to confide in other characters. Occasionally Echenoz will stop the story for an authorial explanation of a character’s history, as he does early in the novel to clarify Fred Shapiro’s involvement with Ferguson Gibbs; for the most part, however, readers must draw their own conclusions.

George Chave’s motivations are always clear. He wishes to please his mistress, to buy her a yellow dress and other gifts. Therefore, he gets a job, which happens to be with a detective agency. His mistress’ coldness and unfaithfulness, however, predispose George to another great passion. After a brief encounter with Jenny Weltman, he has a single goal: to find her, wherever she is. It is his quest for this ideal woman which takes him from adventure to adventure, accidentally surviving dangers and succeeding in detection, while others suspect him of being a schemer like themselves, rather than the innocent, single-minded lover that he is.

The other single-minded character in the novel is the criminal Croconyan, who subordinates his own interests to those of George, once he has become George’s faithful friend. Whenever George needs help, Croconyan appears; indeed, when he finds himself in the hands of the Rayonists, George...

(The entire section is 426 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

McCarthy, Patrick. “Playing with the Parrot,” in The Times Literary Supplement. October 14, 1983, p. 1142.

McGee, Celia. “Nice Guy, Private Eye,” in The New York Times Book Review. XCII (September 20, 1987), p. 31.

Thiher, Allen. Review in World Literature Today. LVIII (Spring, 1984), p. 232.