Vacated Landscape

Vacated Landscape

Jean Lahougue

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Translated, with an afterword, by K. E. Gormley / September 2024 / 5.375 x 8, 240 pp. /


An editor at a Parisian publishing house receives a manuscript by someone calling himself Desiderio—a manuscript that bears an eerie (though vague) resemblance to his own life and to a book he was planning to write on a Renaissance painter of the same name. He decides to use his vacation time to visit the place from which it was sent—the quaint, historical seaside town of V.—and believes he has identified the author/sender: one Jean Morelle, himself a tourist, who disappeared the very day the manuscript was mailed. The narrator decides to play amateur detective and track down Morelle, unaware that as he becomes more deeply enmeshed in the mystery, the streets of V. will bend around him like a Möbius strip to form a loop that seems to offer no escape.

A portrait of obsession, Vacated Landscape is both ingeniously fractal, with sentences that are tiny scale models of the larger narrative, and exuberantly byzantine, full of long parentheticals and odd circumlocutions that form a tantalizing labyrinth that sits somewhere between Nabokov’s The Real Life of Sebastian Knight and Kafka’s The Castle.

Jean Lahougue (1945–) is an innovative French novelist whose experiments often combine nouveau roman techniques with the detective novel or Oulipian constraints. A lifelong Agatha Christie fan, he won (and refused) the Prix Médicis in 1980 for Comptine des Height, a puzzle-novel patterned on Ten Little Indians. Vacated Landscape is his first book to appear in English.
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