Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 230

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.

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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.

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