Book review: Exercises in Style, By Raymond Queneau Alma
Boyd Tonkin is Literary Editor at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Social Policy Editor of the New Statesman and has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes. He has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.
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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