Book review: Exercises in Style, By Raymond Queneau Alma
Boyd Tonkin is Senior Writer and a columnist at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Literary Editor at The Independent, and before that Social Policy Editor and then Books Editor at the New Statesman magazine. He has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes and has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize. In 2001, he re-founded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for literature in translation, and serves on its judging panel every year.
Friday 18 October 2013
Midway between Lewis Carroll and Jacques Derrida, in a deliriously witty dimension of its own, lies Queneau's Exercises in Style.
In 1947, the peerless prankster of French literature published 99 short variations on a humdrum anecdote about a row on a bus.
Although he drew on the figures of classical rhetoric, it's the delight in pastiche - back-slang to Spoonerisms, sonnets to haikus, medical to "abusive" language - that lends such zest to his versions.
Barbara Wright's dazzling translation matches this oddball classic step by step, pun by pun.
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