Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Names in novels - a view according to Echenoz

I enjoy the names Echenoz gives his charactes in Big Blondes (1997, translation with occasional clumsiness by Mark Polizzotti, The New Press) (Les Grandes Blondes, 1995, Editions de Minuit) and while checking whether one in particular was a total fiction or existed in reality (Personnettaz - so weird, and yes, it is a real name), came across a review in Liberation entirely dedicated to this topic, which you'll find here (in French). Echenoz compiles lists of names he likes as he comes across them, before he may need them. They may not always be the names of actual people: he finds them anywhere - in the train or on the entrance to a factory.

He says: "Reading Henry James' Notebooks, I was struck by the list of names he kept in reserve."
He likes names that work in several languages and over several periods, that have belonged to a variety of people - Arbogast (the heroine's family name in Big Blondes) was the name of a bishop in the 5th century, a general under Theodosius [Roman emperor, 347-395], a French mathematician in the 18th century and the name of the detective in Psycho. First names matter too - they add something, though he says that he is incapable of explaining why the sexy active girl in Big Blondes is called Donatienne, an uncommon name - the name came to him and that is who she was - no question.

Each name is different from all the others and conjures up a specific personality: the reader has no difficulty in remembering who they are.

In Echenoz's following book, Piano (also translated by Polizzotti) one finds that he has been unable to let go of two of the names so carefully chosen and that they reappear, one of them with a wink to his previous incarnation. That book was reviewed in the Independent.

I shall write more when I've finished reading Big Blondes - about the use and practice of irony, which ties in with Vila-Matas' book about Never any end to Paris...