The Open Road
A nomad and a swindler embark on an eccentric road trip in this picaresque, philosophical novel by the author of The Man Who Planted Trees.
The south of France, 1950: A solitary vagabond walks through the villages, towns, valleys, and foothills of the region between northern Provence and the Alps. He picks up work along the way and spends the winter as the custodian of a walnut-oil mill. He also picks up a problematic companion: a cardsharp and con man, whom he calls “the Artist.”
The action moves from place to place, and episode to episode, in truly picaresque fashion. Everything is told in the first person, present tense, by the vagabond narrator, who goes unnamed. He himself is a curious combination of qualities—poetic, resentful, cynical, compassionate, flirtatious, and self-absorbed.
While The Open Road can be read as loosely strung entertainment, interspersed with caustic reflections, it can also be interpreted as a projection of the relationship of author, art, and audience. But it is ultimately an exploration of the tensions and boundaries between affection and commitment, and of the competing needs for solitude, independence, and human bonds. As always in Jean Giono, the language is rich in natural imagery and as ruggedly idiomatic as it is lyrical.
Praise for The Open Road
"Giono the writer is not interested in reality, regional or otherwise, until it becomes mythological." —Michael Wood, London Review of Books
"Paul Eprile has rendered Giono's Les Grands Chemins with all of the original's propulsive energy, and with attention to the diction, costumes, and mores of the immediate postwar period. Veering through a landscape of forests, villages, farmsteads, and mills, Giono's vagabond narrator at once yearns for a hearth and pushes on blindly, treacherously, to the horizon, drawing the reader under the spell of his continuous present tense. In this luminous picaresque, Giono gradually unveils the tensions between necessity and risk, work and grace, that stand at the heart of the novelist's vocation itself." —Susan Stewart, author of The Ruins Lesson: Meaning and Material in Western Culture
"Plenty of novelists withhold information about their narrators, names included. Plenty of novelists also take risks with time and pacing. What makes this novel stand out is the meticulous care that Giono applies to both his narrator’s voice and the ways in which he experiences time. . . . Shifting between lived-in details and a sense of alienation, this novel is frequently hypnotic and always compelling." —Kirkus, starred review
"[Giono’s] fictional Provence has all the mythic sweep of Melville and the closely observed grotesquery of Faulkner. . . . [The Open Road’s] nameless narrator unfurls the story in the present tense, without chapter breaks, deluging his reader with aphorism, cliché, and commentary as he strolls, hikes, and hitches from the Alps to the south of Provence. . . . Does his attraction [to The Artist] come from the loneliness of the road, or somewhere deeper? Giono hints, but never says." —Robert Rubsam, The Baffler
“This 1951 novel shows another side [to Jean Giono]. . . [The Open Road is] punctuated with spirited descriptions of card playing, drinking and bad weather. . . A story where nothing happens but everything happens.” —John Self, “The Best Recent Translated Fiction,” The Guardian
“[The Open Road] slides down the throat like an oyster—an unusual, not unpleasant sensation, designed to be gulped down whole. . . . The pages turn almost by themselves. . . It’s a joy to read a book that knows exactly what it’s about and what it’s doing, one where the form and the plot are profoundly intertwined into a remarkable interlude.” —Sarah Manvel, Bookmunch