Exercises in Style (Oneworld Classics) Paperback – 1 Jul 2008
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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 in ninety-nine different styles. An 'Abusive' chapter heartily deplores the events, 'Opera English' lends them grandeur. Raymond Queneau rendered Barbara Wright his 'heartiest congratulations', adding, 'I have always thought that nothing is untranslatable. Here is new proof'.
About the Author
One of the most versatile and interesting of French twentieth
century authors, Queneau (1903-1976) was widely respected as an
intellectual, but also touched a bestseller public, and can be compared to
James Joyce, his friend, in his originality and ability to write
simultaneously on many levels. He was a legendary figure, not only in the
literary world, but as mathematician, philosopher and editor of the
Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. His translations by Barbara Wright are literary
masterpieces in themselves.
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Now we may at first wonder that there are nine, let alone 99 different ways of describing such a simple tale. The magic of the book is the multiplicity of styles Queneau uses. We might imagine the story told from the different perspectives of the participants. But imagine it observed passively, or described by someone hesitatingly, or with extreme precision. Imagine it told through a sonnet, or a play, or in a tactile way, as the notes in a policeman's notebook, or focussing on sounds, through spoonerisms, or by a mathematician.
The result is that one is left thinking that there are so many more ways that even such a simple story could be told.
The effect is many-fold. Never again will I be able to see a description of anything without being aware of just how partial that description must be. It illuminates the reality of multiple perspectives from which everything can be seen.
For the writer, reader, speaker and listener it changes the way you perceive the description of everything. Opening up new opportunities and raising countless new questions.
This is a truly fascinating book, which has become a timeless classic.