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Double Jeopardy.

One of the most talented writers in France today, Jean Echenoz has written five novels, all published by the prestigious Editions de Minuit, and has won two coveted literary prizes, the European Literature Prize for Lac and the Prix Medicis for Cherokee. Double Jeopardy, his third novel, is a zany adventure story reminiscent of both Conrad and Dick Tracy. The novel begins with a tale of unrequited love as rival suitors Charles Pontiac and Jean- Francois Pons (alias Jeff), both spurned by Nicole Fischer, set out to build new lives for themselves, Charles as "a man of the underground" among the street people of Paris, Jeff as Duke Pons, the benevolent manager of a rubber plantation in Malaysia. It ends with another pair of suitors, Bob and Paul, vying for the attention of Nicole's daughter, Justine. Between these two poles, Jeff's attempts to arm the workers against the new plantation owners bring all the characters together in a series of comic adventures that take them from France to Malaysia. While Jeff tries to foment a rebellion on the plantation, Bob and Paul buy weapons for him in Paris, pursued by a bungling gang of Belgians, who compete with them for the arms sold by the dealer Tomaso under the cover of his home-appliance business.

Along the way, the reader encounters a colorful cast of characters - Aw Aw, Toon, Captain Illinois, Van Os, Gina de Beer, Plankaert, and the geomancer, Bouc Bel Air. Unlike Conrad's well-developed characters, this motley crew are cartoonlike caricatures whose actions always seem to fall flat. Although their adventures have all the makings of high drama - arms trafficking, kidnappings, holdups, a workers' uprising, and a mutiny on the Boustepheron (the dilapidated freighter used to smuggle arms) - all their efforts come to naught: the rebellion is a disaster, the kidnappings a fiasco, and the mutiny a failure. Echenoz's deadpan style conveys the comic adventures of these hapless antiheroes in mock serious fashion, and the text abounds in puns, linguistic play, and humorous references to its own zigzagging structure. Like any good farce, the novel is fast-paced, reads well, and keeps the reader entertained from beginning to end.
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Author:Ireland, Susan
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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