Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Cherokee, the second of Jean Echenoz’s published novels and the first to be translated into English, won the Medicis Prize in 1983. Critics have described it as a detective story, a thriller, and a comic masterpiece with serious elements. That the setting is specifically French, from Parisian streets and highways to the French Alps, is pointed out by critics. This is not a modern novel which could have taken place anywhere that people are confused and unhappy. Yet the title of the book suggests also a kinship with American jazz, whose brief, intense phrases are the musical equivalent of the brief, intense, even violent scenes which make up the novel.

It is the contemporary film, however, which is the major influence on this work. The book opens like a film: A man walks out of a hanger and into a bar; minutes pass and suspense builds as Echenoz pans the scene in description; finally, without any real conversation, the man walks out of the bar, and the reader, caught, moves with him. The book ends with another familiar film scene: the funeral procession, the movement to a car, and the final frame, eyes in a rearview mirror and a brief question. Cherokee is a significant book because it brings new themes and techniques to an earlier form and because it successfully employs film techniques and conventions in the novel genre.