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 apparently unexceptional tale ninety-
nine times, employing the sonnet and the alexandrine, “Ze Frrench” and
“Cockney”, while an “Abusive” chapter heartily deplores the events.
When Exercises in Style first appeared in French in 1947, it led to
Queneau’s election to the highly prestigious Académie Goncourt. This
virtuoso set of themes and variations is a linguistic rust-remover, a guide
to literary forms, a demonstration of the use of imagery and expletive. But
it is far too funny to be merely a pedantic thesis.
The late Raymond Queneau, novelist, poet, mathematician and editor,
once told Barbara Wright that of all 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 humour. It has not only
linguistic knowledge and ingenuity, it has that.”
'Witty, playful, ingenious, it manages to transcend its own sophistication by a sort of verbal slapstick which Miss Wright translated into pure Groucho Marxism.' – The Guardian
'A pointless anecdote told in 99 different ways, or a work of genius in a brilliant translation by Barbara Wright. In fact it's both. Endlessly fascinating and very funny. ' Philip Pullman
Read an excerpt from Exercises in Style
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