Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 518
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, 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, a rich, red-haired Englishman involved in business with Fred Shapiro. He abducts George and later becomes a substitute priest of the Rayonites until they turn against him.
Jenny Weltman, the woman for whom George searches throughout most of the novel. Young and pretty with blue-gray eyes and blond hair, she first meets George in the National Library. She acts as a priestess for the Rayonites but finally is reunited with George.
Fernand, a bookseller. A man of sixty-five, dressed in numerous layers of clothing, he mourns for the writers whom he knew in his youth. After George tries to sell books to him, he suggests that Fred might be able to help him find a job. Fred, his nephew, later kills him.
Christian Ripert (rih-PEHR), a detective. A tall, thin man, he is motivated by envy of George, who solves cases that he and his partner cannot. His pursuit of George does not bring him luck: First, Ripert is injured when George pushes him off of a balcony, then later he is shot and killed by Fred at the Rayonite headquarters.
Martial Bock, another private detective and Ripert’s partner. A short, fat man, he dresses as gaudily as a pimp, like Ripert. After kidnapping Veronique from the mountain hideout, he and his partner end up joining the police in the siege of the Rayonite headquarters.
Veronique, George’s first girlfriend, an office worker. Although she leaves George for a photographer, she later joins both of them, along with Croconyan, at the photographer’s home in the Alps, where George tries to hide. It is Veronique who leads the detectives and the police to rescue George from the Rayonites.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 426
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 is disappointed, almost surprised, that Croconyan has not rescued him.
While George is pursuing Jenny and Croconyan is protecting George, several entrepreneurs are quite willing to resort to crime in order to make money. The Ferro inheritance and the Rayonist fund both inspire elaborate deception. The pleasant, wealthy Ferguson Gibbs and the scheming, violent Fred Shapiro, who has always quarreled with his cousin George, share an obsession with money and a delight in intrigue. The actors and actresses, including Jenny, whom they hire to further their plans, are not particularly concerned about what they must do in order to earn their fees. The hireling detectives are quite willing to have George beaten or killed in order to protect their own interests.
Certainly the objective approach and the comic tone of the novel are partially responsible for the one-dimensional quality of Echenoz’s characters. Yet it is significant that the characters who are most fully realized are the two who are motivated by ideals: George, the determined lover, and Croconyan, the dedicated friend. Because they wear no masks, even in an objective novel they can be known as the schemers cannot.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 39
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.
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