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We're indebted to Barbara Wright and Chris Clarke for their having completed the exercises they have by translating them into English.

—Christopher Merkel, Bookslut
cover image for Exercises in Style: 65th Anniversary Edition

Exercises in Style: 65th Anniversary Edition


On a crowded bus at midday, Raymond Queneau observes one man accusing another of jostling him deliberately. When a seat is vacated, the first man appropriates it. Later, in another part of town, Queneau sees the man being advised by a friend to sew a new button on his overcoat. Exercises in Style, Queneu’s experimental masterpiece and a hallmark book of the OULIPO literary group, retells this unexceptional tale in ninety-nine exceptional ways, employing writing styles such as the sonnet and the alexandrine, onomatopoeia and even Cockney.

A 65th Anniversary Edition includes twenty-five exercises by Queneau never before published in English translated by Chris Clarke, as well as new exercises by contemporary writers Jesse Ball, Blake Butler, Amelia Gray, Shane Jones, Jonathan Lethem, Ben Marcus, Harry Mathews, Lynne Tillman, Frederic Tuten, and Enrique Vila-Matas.

cover image for The Blue Flowers

The Blue Flowers


At his death in 1976, Raymond Queneau was one of France’s most eminent men of letters — novelist, poet, essayist, editor, scientist, mathematician, and, more to the point, pataphysician. And only a pataphysician nurtured lovingly on surrealist excess could have come up with The Blue Flowers, Queneau’s 1964 novel, now reissued as a New Directions Paperbook. To a pataphysician all things are equal, there is no improvement or progress in the human condition, and a "message" is an invention of the benighted reader, certainly not the author or his perplexing creations — the sweet, fennel-drinking Cidrolin and the rampaging Duke d’Auge. History is mostly what the duke rampages through — 700 years of it at 175-year clips. He refuses to crusade, clobbers his king with the "in" toy of 1439 — the cannon — dabbles in alchemy, and decides that those musty caves down at Altamira need a bit of sprucing up. Meanwhile, Cidrolin in the 1960s lolls on his barge moored along the Seine, sips essence of fennel, and ineffectually tries to catch the graffitist who nightly defiles his fence. But mostly he naps. Is it just a coincidence that the duke appears only when Cidrolin is dozing? And vice versa? In the tradition of Villon and Céline, Queneau attempted to bring the language of the French streets into common literary usage, and his mad word-plays, bad puns, bawdy jokes, and anachronistic wackiness have been kept amazingly and glitteringly intact by the incomparable translator Barbara Wright.

Available: April 01 1985

cover image for Exercises In Style

Exercises In Style


On a crowded bus at midday, Raymond Queneau observes one man accusing another of jostling him deliberately. When a seat is vacated, the first man appropriates it. Later, in another part of town, Queneau sees the man being advised by a friend to sew another button on his overcoat. Exercises in Style retells this unexceptional tale ninety-nine times, employing the sonnet and the alexandrine, "Ze Frrench" and "Cockney." An "Abusive" chapter heartily deplores the events; "Opera English" lends them grandeur. In 1947, when Exercises in Style first appeared in French, it led to Queneau’s election to the highly prestigious Académie des Goncourt. He once told Barbara Wright that of all of his books, this was the one he most wished to see translated. He rendered her his "heartiest congratulations," adding: "I have always thought that nothing is untranslatable. Here is new proof. And it is accomplished with all the intended humor. It has not only linguistic knowledge and ingenuity, it also has that."

Available: February 01 1981

cover image for The Sunday Of Life

The Sunday Of Life


The Sunday of Life (Le Dimanche de la vie), the late Raymond Queneau’s tenth novel, was first published in French by Gallimard in 1951 and is now appearing for the first time in this country, in a translation by Barbara Wright. Critics are universally agreed that it and the later Zazie dans le métro (1959) show Queneau at his zaniest and most cheerful, and it is not surprising that both these novels have been made into popular and successful films. But as always with Queneau, beneath the apparent absurdities of plot and the bumbling of his rather ordinary characters, there is a precision of structure and purpose that, ironically enough, places the work of this earliest of new-wave novelists squarely in the tradition of the eighteenth-century roman philosophique. In the ingenuous ex-Private Valentin Brû, the central figure in The Sunday of Life, Queneau has created that oddity in modern fiction, the Hegelian naïf. Highly self-conscious yet reasonably satisfied with his lot, imbued with the good humor inherent in the naturally wise, Valentin meets the painful nonsense of life’s adventures with a slightly bewildered detachment. As Barbara Wright so aptly writes: "Though The Sunday of Life is set in one of the most traumatic of recent periods––1936-40, the dark years leading up to the Second World War and including the fall of France... it nevertheless does indeed manage to be one of Queneau’s happiest, sunniest, and most undated novels: it far transcends anything like a mere chronicle of times."

Available: April 01 1977

cover image for The Flight of Icarus

The Flight of Icarus


Called by some the French Borges, by others the creator of le nouveau roman a generation ahead of its time, Raymond Queneau’s work in fiction continues to defy strict categorization. The Flight of Icarus (Le Vol d’lcare) is his only novel written in the form of a play: seventy-four short scenes, complete with stage directions. Consciously parodying Pirandello and Robbe-Grillet, it begins with a novelist’s discovery that his principal character, Icarus by name, has vanished. This, in turn, sets off a rash of other such disappearances. Before long, a number of desperate authors are found in search of their fugitive characters, who wander through the Paris of the 1890s, occasionally meeting one another, and even straying into new novels. Icarus himself — perhaps following the destiny his name suggests — develops a passion for horseless carriages, kites, and machines that fly. And throughout the almost vaudevillian turns of the plot, we are aware, as always, of Queneau’s evident delight at holding the thin line between farce and philosophy.