Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Novels in 3 Lines

One of my favorite books published last year was the collection "Novels in Three Lines" by Felix Feneon. (shown above in an 1890 portrait by Paul Signac.) This little book from NYRB Classics collects more than a thousand three-line sketches that appeared anonymously in the French newspaper Le Matin in the early 1900's. Feneon was a journalist and critic who is credited as being the first French publisher of James Joyce, among many other accomplishments. These three-line tales, which he wrote in complete obscurity, present true stories of crimes and tragedies occurring throughout France. Read together, the brief stories paint a very strange and cohesive portrait of a violent and unpredictable era.

A few samples, chosen at random:

Dismissed by the Bridge and Highway Department,
Pajas, an old dock cleaner, jumped into the Garonne, in Bordeaux,
a bag of stones around his neck.

Raoul G., of Ivry, an untactful husband, came home
unexpectedly and stuck his blade in his wife, who was
frolicking in the arms of a friend.

With its horrible monsters and efflorescent skin diseases,
a traveling freak show burned down in the park
at Saint Cloud.

The book is translated and introduced by cultural writer Luc Sante, author of the fantastically entertaining Low Life, who has a very interesting little blog of his own. Pinakothek is an irregularly updated "blog about pictures." Sante uncovers odd images that appeal to him for one reason or another (found photographs, old advertisements, book jackets, clothing labels, etc.) and composes brief prose poems around them. Not an earth-changing blog, but like Feneon's book, quite profound in its limited scope.

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