‘Special Envoy’ by Jean Echenoz – A Playful if Shallow 1960s Spy Romp


‘Special Envoy’ by Jean Echenoz   (2016) – 240 pages                Translated from the French by Sam Taylor



‘Special Envoy’ is the fourth novel by Jean Echenoz I have read.  I’ve had great praise for him in previous reviews. For his novel ‘Piano’ I wrote, “I do believe that Jean Echenoz is one of the true giants of the literary world today whose works should not be missed.”

However this one you can probably skip.

‘Special Envoy’ is a madcap spy caper that begins in Paris and eventually finds several of the characters in Pyongyang, North Korea with Kim Jong-un. It has plenty of casual sex and many preposterous kidnappings and murders along the way.   Echenoz must surely realize that he has written an anachronism, a 1960s spy novel.  Ian Fleming and James Bond live.  There is no real point to this novel beyond entertainment.

The only requirements for a female in ‘Special Envoy’ are that she be very good looking and compliant and agreeable to sex with any good looking man she happens to meet.  It is the type of tale where a thirty year old woman is called “the girl”.

“On the other hand, after several walks in different parks and museums and other preliminary chores, Tausk will end up screwing the platinum-bunned assistant who, over time, will prove a very good way of killing time.  Charlotte will even reveal herself to be an insatiable if somewhat exhausting partner, to the point that Tausk, by now firm friends with Hyacinth again, will invite him to form a threesome.” 

Echenoz can only be making fun of these laid-back attitudes. I think what Echenoz had in mind when he wrote ‘Special Envoy’ was parodying these old spy novels but instead wound up creating his own dusty old spy novel.  In this day and age, I believe that James Bond is so ridiculous he is beyond parody.   When you try to parody these old 1960s spy novels you must be careful or you will wind up with your own 1960s spy novel.

However there are still sure signs of Echenoz’ talent as a fiction writer even though ‘Special Envoy’ did not really work for me.  The scenes sparkle with their own comic energy, and the outrageous characters and outlandish plot kept my interest throughout.

I prefer the more substantial works of Jean Echenoz.  He is too good a writer to waste on this kind of meaningless stuff.


Grade :    B


One response to this post.

  1. Thanks for the warning!



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