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Chopin's Move (1989)
by Jean Echenoz
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With his trademark comically wry phrasing and a sure eye for quirky detail, Echenoz has produced his oddest and most enjoyable novel to date. Chopin's Move interweaves the fates of Chopin, entomologist and recalcitrant secret agent; Oswald, a young foreign-affairs employee who vanishes en route to his new home; Suzy, who gets enmeshed in a tangle of deceit and counterdeceit; the mysterious Colonel Seck, whose motivations are never quite what they seem; and a typically Echenozian supporting cast of neurotic bodyguards, disquieting functionaries, and crafty double agents. As the plot thickens, the characters become embroiled in layer upon layer of deception and double-dealing, leading them further into a world in which nothing can be taken at face value and in which "reality" hinges on apparently harmless coincidence.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)843.914 — Literature French French fiction Modern Period 20th Century 1945-1999
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The protagonist, Chopin, is an entymologist/scientist/academic and an erstwhile part-time spy. His niche is using insects as eavesdropping devices or 'bugs as bugs'. This vignette smacks of Thomas Pynchon and is a welcome respite from the farcical but attractive spy storyline. The author plays with the edge of humor and faux-realism. For example, a sentence on evading surveillance: "To get there, he had to apply the classic procedure for discouraging tails, and it was once more and forever the same rigamarole: you hop from one taxi into the Metro entrance, then from another taxi into another Metro, and you jump into the train at the last instant, and you jump off the train just before the doors close, and you cross and recross the building with double exits, then another building, and you hop yet another taxi that drops you fifty yards from the hidden backstreet, which you reach in a sweat, out of breath and certain that this whole business is utterly pointless.
The author is a hit and miss around the other characters, mostly hits : enigmatic and practical Colonel Seck, supporting spies Dr. Belsunce and Mousezy-Eon, and the villain bodyguards. Overall, the read is perhaps too subtle and the crafting of metaphor and wordsmithing too complex for the subject matter, which the author shows a facility for keeping pace and reader interest. A worthy break from the chain of trite predictable spy stories or a complementary filler in a portfolio of an incredibly talented writer, perhaps genius author. However, make this dessert, not your main meal. ( )