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1. Exercises in Style
2. The Last Days: A Novel (French
3. Heartsnatcher
4. The Sunday of Life
5. The Blue Flowers (New Directions
6. Chiendent
7. Naming and Unnaming: On Raymond
8. Zazie in the Metro
9. Saint Glinglin
10. Pierrot Mon Ami (French Literature)
11. Witch Grass
12. We Always Treat Women Too Well
13. The Flight of Icarus (New Directions
14. Exercices De Style (French Edition)
15. The Lyric Encyclopedia of Raymond
16. Raymond Queneau, un poète
17. Raymond Queneau: Poems (Unicorn
18. Stories and Remarks (French Modernist
19. Les\Fleurs Bleues
20. Odile

1. Exercises in Style
by Raymond Queneau
Paperback: 204 Pages (1981-02-17)
list price: US$12.95 -- used & new: US$7.25
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0811207897
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Canada | United Kingdom | Germany | France | Japan
Editorial Review

Product Description
“A work of genius in a brilliant translation by Barbara Wright….Endlessly fascinating and very funny.” —Philip PullmanThe plot of Exercises in Style is simple: a man gets into an argument with another passenger on a bus.However, this anecdote is told 99 more times, each in a radically different style, as a sonnet, an opera, in slang, and with many more permutations. This virtuoso set of variations is a linguistic rust-remover, and a guide to literary forms.Amazon.com Review
A twentysomething bus rider with a long, skinny neck and agoofy hat accuses another passenger of trampling his feet; he thengrabs an empty seat. Later, in a park, a friend encourages the sameman to reorganize the buttons on his overcoat. In Raymond Queneau'sExercises in Style, this determinedly pointless scenariounfolds 99 times in twice as many pages. Originally published in 1947(in French), these terse variations on a theme are a wry lesson increativity. The story is told as an official letter, as a blurb for anovel, as a sonnet, and in "Opera English." It's toldonomatopoetically, philosophically, telegraphically, andmathematically. The result, as translator Barbara Wright writes in herintroduction, is "a profound exploration into the possibilitiesof language." I'd say it's a refresher course of sorts, but it'smore like a graduate seminar. After all, how many of us are familiarwith terms such as litote, alexandrine, apheresis, and epenthesis inthe first place? ... Read more

Customer Reviews (25)

4-0 out of 5 stars Nifty. Clever. Playful
This is a clever little book. The author takes a trivial incident from a day in Paris and tells it in a few dozen different ways, usually in less than 1 page.

I got a kick out of it and I was very impressed with how different he could make the same event sound using different stylistic approaches. It's a trip. To be fair though, towards the end of the book I got a little tired and I thought the author was forcing it, coming up with some unreadable takes.

5-0 out of 5 stars great book
i'm graphic designer and i find this book very inspiring, applicable to almost anything i do and see. there is a whole universe created out of a simple idea. and that's what i call mastery--being interesting while being very simple.

5-0 out of 5 stars Literary Dance of a Thousand Veils
A story is told in a multitude of tellings, each in a different regional, socio-economic, or ethnic accent, each from a slightly different angle, as if we are seeing light and shadow through different facets of a diamond.Where Roshomon merely has four tellings of the same tale, this story is told 99 times.The story itself could hardly be more banal, but the constantly changing reflection of light in the gemstone is endlessly fascinating. Mesmerizing. Like watching water flowing under a bridge.The banality of the story merely serves to underline the endless creativity, the soaring possibilities, of language as an instrument in the hands of a virtuosi.

With each telling, another veil is removed and another detail is seen or another perspective is provided, until, at the end, the complete story has been revealed, yet never all at once in any single version.

This is a tiny, perfect work of pure genius and profound love of language.


(Review refers to the original French text.)

5-0 out of 5 stars Etudes
The idea for this book came to the author after a performance of Bach's "The Art of the Fugue." Queneau thought it would be interesting to attempt, in prose, a similar exploration of variations on a theme. To that end, he began to write a series of stories exploring forms ranging from the sonnet and the alexandrine to the parody and the lampoon. He retold the same story 99 times, in numbers, dialect, dialogue, pig Latin, spoonerisms, metaphor, officialese, and so on.

The tale is simplicity itself: On a crowded bus, a man accuses a fellow passenger of deliberately jostling him. When a seat opens, he grabs it. Later he is observed on the street being told by a friend "to get an extra button put on [his] overcoat." Anything more is dictated not by the facts but by the requirements of the chosen form.

In general, it was Queneau's ambition, unusual in a Frenchman he said with a smile, to write as unpretentiously and intelligibly as possible. He hoped his exercises in style would "act as a kind of rust-remover to literature, help to rid it of some of its scabs." His purposes certainly were serious enough -- to experiment variously with the possibilities of language, to explore the philosophy of language -- but his means are a fireworks display of witty and entertaining alternatives. Translator Barbara Wright offers an amusing and helpful introduction. Not many studies in linguistics will have you laughing out loud.

"Exercises in Style" is a classic that deserves a place on every writer's shelf.

4-0 out of 5 stars Style with style
Humorous and instructive. The story of an altercation on a bus, an apparition with a hat translated from the French with elan. ... Read more

2. The Last Days: A Novel (French Literature)
by Raymond Queneau
Paperback: 237 Pages (1996-09)
list price: US$11.95 -- used & new: US$1.48
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1564781402
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
Canada | United Kingdom | Germany | France | Japan
Editorial Review

Product Description
"profound, complex, likable" novel, tr B Wright ... Read more

Customer Reviews (2)

5-0 out of 5 stars Sad and lonely boy wanders/wonders through college
Sad and funny and beautiful, Queneau watches the world and portrays the smallest of things in the most unique way. Celebrating the simpleton, Queneau looks back at his student years. His head is stuck in books. Hemeets few friends. Outside, the world swindles and connives and lies andquips. Outsiders take note, this book settles long after the last page isturned. A special, special book. A great introduction to the world ofQueneau.

5-0 out of 5 stars The Last Days by Raymond Queneau
This novel (Queneau's second after "Le Chiendent" translated as 'the Bark Tree' by Barbara Wright) is a charming, witty novel aboutthe travails of severalFrench students preparing for their "bacheau" admirably cointerpointed with a secondary story of a petty swindler and a tertiary story of a waiter who comfabulates a fantastic betting schema based on the movements of the lunary planets and their shifts and motion. The deft translation gives the full flavor of the novel, and Queneau's writing is superbly sunny and wonderful. This is a must read for all those interested in the development of the French novel c. 1930-s to 1940-s. It's quite funny! ... Read more

3. Heartsnatcher
by Boris Vian
Paperback: 245 Pages (2003-10-03)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$8.67
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1564782999
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Canada | United Kingdom | Germany | France | Japan

Customer Reviews (8)

5-0 out of 5 stars J'adore this book!
I am so glad I discovered this author and this book!I found Vian's flippant and humorous treatment of such serious things in life as a mother's stifling love, shame, depravity and religion all the more effective in showing up mans cruelty.To me, this book was like reading Salvador Dali; teasing symbolism, tantalizing imagery in deep and true colors.Someone wrote here that Vian is a typical French author who doesn't serve up pearls already shucked for you; you have to dive for them yourself.I agree.I also agree that this is more of a literary achievement then an intellectual one but I believe that is only because Vian is having fun with his contemporary writing friends such as Sartre.Anyway, this is one of those books you mustn't work too hard on; just relax and let the story unfold.I think you will find it is a story that continues to reveal itself to you long after you turn that last page.

3-0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery "Book Report"

In "Heartsnatcher," Boris Vian put the Western world on the couch for an examination and decided the best solution was to hide from it.

Like many writers, Vian had no particular claim to the title of social psychoanalyst other than the frequent contemplation of his navel, which he found time to do in between stints as an actor, jazz trumpeter, engineer and mechanic.

This French scribe, of little import beyond his native nation's borders, was part of a post-World War II Parisian ebullience springing from the magical city's Latin Quarter.

A practitioner of le swing in a band that included two of his brothers, Vian played host to such jazz luminaries as Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Charlie Parker.

He was part of a hedonistic crosscurrent in the Saint German-des-Pres world upon which politically committed intellectuals like Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Andre Malraux had put their own stamp.

The two groups clashed frequently. The serious crowd probably had a more lasting impact, and the hedonistic crowd more fun, which is pretty much how things work.

In his introduction to the Dalkey Archive Press edition of "Heartsnatcher," John Sturrock writes, that Vian's 1950 play L'Equarissage pour Tous, "a spoof of the Normandy invasion in World War II, was vilified as 'shameful spittle' by Elsa Triolet, wife of Louis Aragon, the French poet, journalist, and staunch member of the French Communist Party. Jean Cocteau, already disliked by the communists, came to Vian's defense and compared the play's spirit to that of his own Les Maries de la Tour Eiffel."

Anyway, the novel appears to be part of mid-century Western lit's larger effort to break with traditional storytelling modes.

In her introductory essay to Jack Kerouac's "On the Road: The Original Scroll," Penny Vlagopoulos noted, that, "Like the European avant-garde artists of the preceding decades, Kerouac sought to collapse the distance between life and art."

Although a contemporary of Kerouac's, Vian's novel would suggest he was up to the same tricks with a focus on the interior life, rather than topographically focused screeds of the Beat poet.

"Heartsnatcher" is refreshing in that the story takes turns not normally associated with the paces of traditional storytelling, even if that means the payoff comes with less clarity and satisfaction.

In fact, it is a little hard to tell what is truly going on in "Heartsnatcher," which hails from a great French tradition that obligates you to work the brain instead of serving up its pearls on a freshly shucked oyster.

The story, such as it is, opens up with the main character, the psychiatrist Timortis, delivering triplets to a rather complex lady named Clementine, who has barred her husband Angel from the momentous event and, eventually, from her life.

"She preferred," Vian tells us, "to suffer and scream alone because she hated her swollen belly and wanted nobody to see her in that condition."

In a conversation with Angel, we learn Timortis comes from the outside with a plan to psychoanalyze the members of Clementine's household on a cliff above the sea and fill his own "empty vessel," in a firm nod to the Mr. Freud, with the subconscious detritus of residents from the nearby, unnamed village.

Timortis tells Angel he wants to learn the villager's "most terrible, heart-rending secrets, his hidden ambitions and desires; the things he does not even admit to himself; everything; everything - and then everything that lies beyond that everything."

The village turns out to be the great scummy id of humanity itself; complete with an "Old Folks Fair" that peddles Golden-agers as cheap labor, requiring men to display what Cervantes called, "the meats" as part of the bidding process, while treating broken crones no better than burros.

Shocked, Timortis questions the "Knacketeer" running this travesty about the woeful lack of scruples and gets a punch in the mouth for his troubles.

Later, he witnesses the brutes of the burg literally crucify a stallion for its sin of copulating with a mare. The narrative is peppered throughout with the deaths of wan little boy apprentices driven until they drop.

A "scarlet stream" filled with indescribable mucks and mires runs near Clementine's house and through the village. Along the waterway works a man in a barge named "Glory Hallelujah," who retrieves dead and decrepit things from the bottoms with his teeth, as required by an agreement with the villagers who pay him in gold, but forbid him to spend it.

"They pay me to feel their remorse for them," explains Glory Halleluhah.

There is a local Vicar whom holds his flock in the highest disdain and will not petition God that their fields be watered with rain until threatened with violence.

His religion is different than the one his followers practice. "Come on Sunday," he tells Timortis, " and you'll see...You'll see how I attack there materialism with an even more materialistic materialism. I'll rub the noses of the brutes in their own messes. Their apathy will find itself striking against an even greater apathy...and a worrying anxiety will grow from this collision which will land them back to religion...the religion of luxury."

Such luxury includes bread and circuses pitting the vicar and his curate in brutal fistfights given for a little local excitement.

Up at the house on the hill Clementine stores a rancid piece of meat in a drawer and eats a piece everyday as way of drawing the dangers of the world away from her triplets and toward her.

Isolated, sexually deprived yet inflamed, she works her mind into feverish fits, inventorying the many dangers from which she must protect them the little boys.

Her task grows even more difficult when they learn how to fly so that the compound is progressively walled in, pruned of all tree coverage, and ultimately outfitted with cushy cages of ready pleasure into which the little scamps are locked for their own safety.

And there's your story. One understood by those who opt for the ivory tower or have set out in youth to make the word a better place.

It does not tell us everything about Vian. As a matter of fact it is a later work from a short life and considered an attempt by him to generate "serious" literature.

Yet while his flights and fancy and non sequitir grotesqueries may try a reader's ability to maintain suspension of disbelief, the prose often graze the body poetic - a statement which obligates the scribe to go dig out an example...

....Here we go, right from the second paragraph of the book, "Timortis sauntered along, looking at the deep bloodred centers of the calamines throbbing in the flat sunshine. At each beat a cloud of pollen rose and, soon afterwards, settled on the dreamily trembling leaves. The bees had all disappeared on holiday."

His greatest success came with, "I'll Spit on Your Graves," an American noir detective send-up, which he wrote in two weeks, under a pseudonym, for handsome royalties and a prosecution for perversion.

Ah success!

"Boris Vian
has been caught
in the cogs
of the machinery of the laws
constructed by his fellow men
and has appeared
before their practitioners
because he wrote
'I'll Go Spit On Your Graves'
under the name of
Vernon Sullivan
although even that's
far from being the whole story"

Which is part of a poem about Vian by Raymond Queneau, about that particular and unpleasant episode.

The future Socialist President of France, Francois Mitterand, served as his attorney, and after a lot of unnecessary grief, Vian got a slap on the wrist.

The book literally killed him. Watching a movie version in the theater that he disapproved of, Vian stood up to publicly air his gripes and keeled over dead.

Sort of. For writers reach beyond their own times; often successfully.

Writes Sturrock: "He became the hero of youth following his death in 1959. And of course when May 1968 arrived, with its benign if hopeless insistence that imagination take power in France, Vian did better still, he was the very prophet the gallantly fantasizing students needed."

Looking to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the May '68 uprisings in Paris, highwayscribery chose to remember Vian in a way that links the literature and politics of that tremendous moment.

5-0 out of 5 stars Actually, more like 4minus
August 30, 2009-In reexamining this early review, it now seems I let my enthusiasm for the unusual aspects of this novel get out of hand. While I still think it is an interesting, if morbid, book, I now think 5 stars should be reserved for something more timeless or exceptional. It seems likely the characters and events of the novel may be very subjective symbolic representations of episodes of the author's life.The depiction of life in a rustic village exposes through its bizarre customs the latent perversity and cruelty in human society. Common decency and kindness seem to be completely absent. In the church, sermons become violent. The vicar takes shelter behind a defensively constructed pulpit while the congregation hurls stones his way. Separated from the village is a house on a cliff where domestic relations, ruled by unparalleled phobias and anxieties, become an extravaganza of absurdity. A psychiatrist tries to make himself whole by psycho-analyzing others. The style of writing is a counterpart to certain surrealist paintings of vivid hues and photographic clarity of seemingly familiar landscapes into which have intruded alien, enigmatic and menacing images. These extreme word-pictures are like poetry that compels us to thinkabout things we take for granted from a different perspective. Some of this imagery I found disturbing. There is humor here, but it seems dark and sardonic. There is a lot of clever wordplay which must have given the translator quite a challenge. It is a book of ideas presented not in an intellectual style but represented artistically in the surrealist manner. I recommend it for those who like to explore unique forms of expression, but must say that before I had finished it I had begun to feel oppressed by its picture of human obsessiveness and was glad I could escape from that weird world simply by closing the book.

5-0 out of 5 stars A strange man comes to a weird town...
*Heartsnatcher* is an uncategorizable novel--a sort of semi-surrealistic fable ((what fable isn't at least semi-surrealistic?)) written in a playful and poetic style that nonetheless delivers a powerful--if elusive--"moral." It begins when a traveling psychiatrist named Timortis stops at an obscure rural hamlet to lend assistance to a woman very painfully giving birth to triplets. As fate will have it, he'll never leave.

Located far from the city, seemingly existing in a time and world all its own, the town Timortis has stumbled upon in his search for someone to analyze is populated by a community of eccentrics and regulated according to customs that range from the comic to the bizarre to the flat-out grotesque. Timortis, as an outsider, as well as a student of human nature ((he suffers from a dispiriting inner emptiness)), can do little more than observe, adapt, and, eventually, "go native"--that is, if he doesn't do what seems to be the sensible thing: to leave.

Instead Timortis accepts an invitation to stay on at the home of the new parents of little Noel, Joel, and Alfa Romeo. Thus Timortis becomes entangled in a tragic-comic Oedipal drama carried beyond the point of absurdity: Mom, experiencing a profound post-partum disgust with the husband who brought motherhood upon her with his filthy lust, nevertheless broods obsessively over the safety of her little brood; Dad, well-meaning but unwanted, banished from bed and breast, bitterly embraces his lonely fate; and the three little cherubs themselves--by turns mischievous, magical, and innocently cruel--living in the enchanted world of a childhood that must ultimately come to an end...but not if Mom can help it.

*Heartsnatcher*--rather inaptly titled--is a charming, quirky, surprising novel full of life, imagination, and a dreamy wisdom that imparts itself effortlessly to the reader. It's a serious book that never takes itself too seriously--fun, funny, and philosophical all at the same time--a book that strikes me as impossible to dislike and all-too-likely to work its spell on you from page one.

4-0 out of 5 stars An Allegory of Protection unto Death
This allegory of good, bad and over-concern is narrated by a psychiatrist named Timortis (Timor Mortis) who comes upon this unknown village in an unknown country in an unknown time.Somethings in the village are familiar but many are not and assumptions have to be made as to who is what and what is who.Timortis enters a house in the village in which a woman is about to give birth (she has three sons: a set of twins named Joel and Noel and a single named Alfa Romeo).He ends up staying with the family for years (maybe eight, it hard to say) but only psychoanalyses the nanny who thinks the word is a euphemism for sex.

There are odd going ons in the town such as an "Old People's Market" and a church at which the Priest has a curate who is a devil and they battle for the amusement of the villagers.But all this is an afterthought to the trials and tribulations of the mother, whose only thoughts are how to protect her children from everyday problems that escalate up to how to protect them from meteorites.

The book is a study of the ends to which love can drive people and how love cannot only be stifling, it can be downright dangerous. ... Read more

4. The Sunday of Life
by Raymond Queneau
Paperback: 180 Pages (1977-01-01)
list price: US$18.95 -- used & new: US$13.67
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0811206467
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (3)

5-0 out of 5 stars A Life of Sundays
This is one of my favourite Queneau novels. Actually it's one of my favourite novels! In one slim volume Queneau achieves a poignancy and oblique truthfulness that is very rarely found in 'modernist' literature. Much is said of Queneau's technique - the neologisms, anachronisms, puns, mathematics - but to focus on these surface aspects is, in my opinion, partly missing the point. Queneau puts all of himself into his works and these technical aspects reflect his deep love of language and recognition of the fact that a novel is essentially an 'artificial' creation. Why shouldn't the writer do as he pleases? But there is much more to the man Queneau. Aside from his linguistic play, his works are always deeply humane. It is enlightening to read Queneau's list of 100 favourite novels. Aswell as Jacques the Fatalist you will find Hemingway, Faulkner and Dickens. Queneau, like Calvino, considers himself a reader first, writer second. Like Calvino he considers reading itself an art form. Certainly he calls upon us to exercise our 'artistic' talents but also he requires us to see each of his novels as an 'artifact', as simply 'some writing'. A good novel can be like a window: giving us a 'view' of some created world, or focussing our attention on the 'pane of glass' itself; Queneau's novels do both. We are voyeurs of the bumbling of his characters but we can also see the frame, never forgetting that this is a novel that we're reading. And so Valentin Bru, like all his most endearing characters, is a person and an archetype. He embodies the deepest concerns of the novel (he is a naif, gifted with the "good humour" that means he "cannot be fundamentally bad or base", encapsulating the quote by Hegel with which the novel begins) and yet we can empathise with him as a typically flawed specimen of humanity, trying to pass his time on Earth as painlessly as possible. Like Pierrot (Pierrot mon ami), like Cidrolin (The Blue Flowers), like Alfred (The Last Days). It is my belief that all these novels, all these characters, ask the same question: why do we do what it is we do? Queneau always seems to answer, never unequivocally ofcourse: because we are human. Valentin Bru does what he does because it doesn't matter what he does, he could do something else, or not. Queneau's characters and novels have no bounds, no limitations. They suggest and accept all possibilities. This is what makes his work, and The Sunday of Life especially, so profoundly and poignantly humane.

4-0 out of 5 stars I don't know Hegel, but I know what I like.
Like most Raymond Queneau novels, 'The Sunday of Life' is a seemingly inconsequential novel that suddenly opens up onto a philosophical vortex.

Valentin Bru is a retiring private soldier in Bordeaux, a veteran of colonial warfare singled out for marriage by a middle-aged merceress whom he has never met.Bru's sole desire is to be a street sweeper, but soon inherits a frame-selling shop in Paris.An earlier visit to the city on a honeymoon he had to take on his own because of his wife's concern for business, saw him engaged in farcical adventures ending up coincidentally at the funeral of his mother-in-law's younger lover.Now in his shop, he becomes a kind of confessional for the local traders, passing on the information to his wife who, unknown to him, has become a clairvoyant.

So far, so funny.The novel proceeds with Queneau's usual gorgeous style, that decaptively loose mix of vernacular and circumlocution that creates comedy by over-verbalising the banal, or pitting his hero's innocence and good faith against the cynical, or customs he simply doesn't understand.

Soon, however, time intrudes, as Valentin acts on a desire to 'trap' time, to follow the long hand of a clock without losing himself in reveries or distractions.The title derives from Hegel, whose spirit haunts the book, and refers, apparently, to a point where history ends and everyday is like Sunday, a timeless realm of pure consciousness.Or something.I don't know anything about Hegel, you'd have to look it up.Certainly, there are at least two strands of time in the novel, the world of the late 30s, Nazism, the impending Fall of France, and the seemingly detached present tense Valentin seems to float through.this is reinforced by a plot withfortune tellers and a hero who predicts a coming war in a 1952 novel that knows he's right.

Philosophers will probably enjoy all this - the rest of us can relish the simpler pleasures: linguistic play; deadpan funny characters; deadpan silly, almost irrelevant comic situations; deadpan dialogue; a sunny love of Paris.

5-0 out of 5 stars Zany, Whacky, Crazy... and several other similar adjectives
Oh my god! Zazie's out of stock and the Bark Tree too. A shame, although this is pretty good nonetheless, got me into Queneau, anyway. Pretty damn funny with a sardonic aftertaste. Like the rest of his stuff. You have tosee the movies of this and Zazie, though, (especially Zazie). Malleachieves on film is equivalent to Queneau's achievement on the page. BeforeI read this my concentration was very low in every respect. Somehow thisbook helped my concentration level... if books can do that. Maybe it wassomething else, but it's still a good book as are the other two. The BarkTree's pretty different to this one, darker, more like Robbe-Grillet if youget into that stuff. Have fun. ... Read more

5. The Blue Flowers (New Directions Paperbook)
by Raymond Queneau
Paperback: 232 Pages (1985-04)
list price: US$16.95 -- used & new: US$8.50
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0811209458
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (6)

5-0 out of 5 stars Exactly what you want
This is a beautiful fairy tale-esque novel that crosses centuries and temperments while writing a new history of France.The main character is Cidrolin, a Frenchman in the 20th century who spends his lackadaisical days giving directions to tourists, painting over graffiti on his fence, and dreaming of the Duke d'Auge.The more charismatic Duke comes galloping into his dreams atop his loquacious well-read horse, starting in the 13th century before running into Cidrolin in our century.In fact the Duke rams his way through history 175 years at a time.In the meantime, he argues religion with the clergy, slaughters herds of bourgeois, and bludgeons anyone who happens to disagree with him.After all, he is a Duke.

It does not get any funnier than this.Whether you want 3 stooges physical comedy or satire concerning religion and class, it will be provided.This is a novel in which Don Quixote himself would not be out of place.The fantastic clashes with the mundane, but always to the readers utmost delight.Never before has so much essence of fennel been drunk.Raymond Queneau has added another delightful novel to the ouvroir of Oulipo.Blue Flowers fits in perfectly next to Calvino and other members works.

5-0 out of 5 stars lovers of word-plays, puns, jokes & anachronisms, read on:
Raymond Queneau (1903-1976) provided a summary of his novel "The Blue Flowers" (1965): "...'I dream that I am a butterfly and pray there is a butterfly dreaming he is me.' The same can be said of the characters in my novel...". The plot wigwags between the bedlam-inducing Duke of Auge (clobbering his way through History at 200 year clips) and the perennially-dozy Cidrolin (fixed to the '60s and his barge on the Seine).

Is one dreaming the other? That is the basic conceit of this lavishly surreal and philosophically-rich novel.

I espeially recommend this title to readers who enjoy books by Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco & Georges Perec.

Did I mention the talking horses?

5-0 out of 5 stars The ultimate in literary 'vice versa'.
'The Blue Flowers' is the most lovable of all Raymond Queneau's novels, one of those rare books you never want to end (for me, the only others I can think of are 'Huckleberry Finn' and 'Dance to the music of time'). It relates two paralell narratives (or rather - and Queneau is the great mathematical novelist! - base and perpendicular narratives): the historical narrative of the endearingly aggressive Duc d'Auge, nay-sayer to royal authority and public opinion, friend of Gilles de Rais and the Marquis de Sade, and debunker of religion to the extent of daubing on caves in the Perigord region to 'prove' the existence of humanity before Adam; his three daughters, including the defective, bleating Phelise, and their small-minded spouses; his squire Mouscaillot and their talking horses, philosophical Demosthenes and taciturn Stef; and his clerical foils, the abbes Biroton and Riphinte. We meet the Duke at 175 year historical intervals - refusing to rejoin the barbarous crusades in 1264, and forced to slaughter disapproving bourgeoisie; investing in new weaponry, most notably the cannon, in defence of his castle in 1439; dabbling in alchemy in 1614; fleeing the French Revolution in 1789. Throughout he hunts, visits the capital, marries woodcutters' young daughters, feasts ferociously, and debates with his clergy.
From the terrifying active Duke, the contemporary story focuses on passive Cidrolin, once wrongly convicted for a crime for which he is still persecuted by an unknown graffiti artist who daubs obscene accusations on his fence every night. Now living on a barge, drinking endless glasses of essence of fennel, he doesn't do much, giving directions to tourists, staring at construction sites or the nearby camping site. Any trip out of the ordinary invariably finds him back where he started; conversations are banal and repetitive. Like the Duke, he has three daughters and sons-in-law, a dead wife and the first name Joachim. He spends most of his time taking siestas, dreaming of the Duke. When the Duke sleeps, usually replete from an enormous meal, he dreams of Cidrolin. Queneau says his book's starting point was the old Chinese saying about a philosopher - When he went to sleep, he dreamt of a butterfly; when he woke up, he wondered whether he was a butterfly dreaming of a philosopher.
'Flowers' is, according to the experts, Queneau's most dense and philosophical novel, an intimidating mixture of Chinese philosophy, 'Finnegan's Wake', Plato, Hegel etc. It certainly deals with Big Themes, such as History, Time, Cosmology, Art, the Importance and Interpretation of Dreams. But for the less intellectually alert amongst us (including me), 'Flowers' offers sundry, more accessible pleasures. The comic set-pieces, which can arise from slapstick; bathos and deflated rhetoric; the deadpan recording of absurd conversations, and the absurd convolutions of deadpan conversations. the characters, from whom biography and psychology is deliberately and crucially elided, nevertheless end up being so completely endearing you don't want to leave them. The eulogy to dreams and their subversive power over official history. The detective story element - what crime was Cidrolin accused of? Who is his persector? Why is the watchman of the camp spying on him? Who sabotaged the new flats? Mostly, 'Flowers' is a joy for its language: the historical settings and wide social range of characters allowing for an Augian feast of archaic and obsolete words, jaw-breaking technical terms, slang, puns, neologisms, for all of which Barbara Wright finds delightful and rich equivalents in the wealth of English life and literature. So inventive, audacious and important is her translating, she should really be credited as the book's co-author.

5-0 out of 5 stars dream a little dream of me
Queneau is a master, as is his translator Barbara Wright.I don't think you will find a translation that communicates more of the book's essence than this one.Every sentence is a play on words and meaning...Wright manages to take Queneau's French "jokes" and make them equally artistic English ones.This book is a delight in its entirety, perfectly deliberate and crafted, yet whimsical, personal, rambling, historical, and more all at once.It is as forward-thinking as Joyce's Ulysses, and in my opinion as important a primer for the ultimate literature.

5-0 out of 5 stars Past, present, past becoming present; and dreams!
There is a phrase in the original french edition of this book which explains everything: "REVER ET REVELER C'EST A PEU PRES LE MEME MOT". Italo Calvino translated in italian with a fantastic "STAIATTENTO CON LE STORIE INVENTATE, RIVELANO COSA C'E' SOTTO. TAL QUALE COME ISOGNI" Keep attention with your dreams, they will disclose yourintentions.Read this book and sleep with Cidrolin dreaming about the lifeof the Duc d'Auge in the past or, if you prefer, live with the Duc d'Augeand dream about Cidrolin's life in the present. Just a surprise: one day,in Paris, they will meet themselves... ... Read more

6. Chiendent
by Raymond Queneau
Mass Market Paperback: 431 Pages (1933-12)
list price: US$22.95 -- used & new: US$5.00
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Asin: 2070365883
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7. Naming and Unnaming: On Raymond Queneau (Stages)
by Jordan Stump
Hardcover: 193 Pages (1998-10-01)
list price: US$45.00 -- used & new: US$14.50
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Asin: 0803242689
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Naming and Unnaming is a dazzling study that centers on the work of Raymond Queneau, one of the most influential French novelists of the twentieth century. Jordan Stump takes as his subject the many implications—epistemological, political, literary, sometimes even physical—of naming in Queneau’s remarkable novels.

From the idea that the names of characters offer a more immediate and perhaps even a more intimate understanding of their souls than we might glean from their words and deeds has grown the broad field of inquiry known as literary onomastics. Stump argues that there is another approach to the literary proper name, one that concentrates not on the meaning of names but on the meaning of the use of those names—the ways in which the characters and narrator of a novel address or refer to others.

Naming and Unnaming considers the literary and philosophical implications of names and naming. Stump examines four issues in Queneau’s novels—the nature of writing and of creation in general, the possibility or impossibility of knowledge, the relationship between the individual and the group, and the uses of power and control—in relation to which naming emerges as a force both powerful and utterly impotent. By exploring these forces and their evocation, Stump reveals the complexity of both the act of naming and the novels of Queneau.

... Read more

8. Zazie in the Metro
by Raymond Queneau
Paperback: 176 Pages (2001)
-- used & new: US$6.65
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Asin: 0142180041
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (10)

5-0 out of 5 stars How can I stop laughting?
This book is hilarious from begining to end.Not extrange it was his most selling book in France.Again, the translation is wonderful.

5-0 out of 5 stars great books of the modern world
one of the great modern books a must for anyone with any sense of humor and wit. if you are serious forget it. if you likefrench silly, read it

5-0 out of 5 stars One of a kind (5 stars down for Barbara Wright)
I have had the pleasure to be introduced to a lot of French authors such as Vian, Queneau, Sartr, Bataille and others and I have found each one of them extremely fascinating and intricate. The majority of Queneau's work I have read in Bulgarian and he has become a favourite of mine, howeverI am quite disappointed with Barbara Wright's translations. I could barely finish reading Exercises in style. I fell offended by the literary translation and its bluntness. As much as I love the author, I'll never be able to get any of his books unless I find another translation, and that is a pitty...It's a shame since I wanted to get a bunch of my friends acquainted with his work.

3-0 out of 5 stars Talk, talk, that's all you can do
If you decide to read Zazie in the Metro, don't be surprised to find yourself thinking a bit like the story's quirky cast of characters: speaking with charmingly wordy phrases (e.g., "Picking up a syphon he purposed to cause its mass to reverberate against Gabriel's skull," rather than, "he hit Gabriel in the head with a bottle."), and forming words using unusual spellings (e.g., "Tsnot true, unkoo" instead of, "It's not true, uncle."). You may even find yourself looking at the world through Zazie's wide eyes, seeing things with the innocence of a child narrated with a vocabulary like Charles Bukowski's.

I pity poor translator Barbara Wright -- author Raymond Queneau's preferred translator, from what I understand -- for what must have been buckets of perspiration shed in what could have only worked as a labor of love. After all, this is a book is more about language and dialogue than it is about anything that could be mistaken for a plot.

The other main source of Zazie in the Metro's charm comes from its unusual roll call of characters. Aside from the always-interesting Zazie, the book offers the quixotic and curious "Unkoo" Gabriel, his dour sometimes foil Gridoux, and even a parrot called Laverdure, whose solitary line -- "Talk, talk, that's all you can do" -- seems to get blurted out only with exceptional timing.

It's easy to understand how this colorful tale inspired a generation of French readers and writers. It is even said to have had a hold on Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the director of the wonderful and similarly playful film, Amelie.

Compared to all this, the plot of this story hardly seems worth mentioning: young Zazie comes to Paris to visit her uncle, but what she really wants to do is ride on the metro for the first time. Because of a strike, she can't, and she compensates with a string of other adventures.

Up until this point, I know, this does not sound like a three-star review (or three and a half, if that had been possible). I have given Zazie in the Metro what amounts to a so-so rating for reasons I am not too sure how to describe. The best explanation I can come up with is that despite all of the positive points made here, the book just failed to capture me; I never felt like I was part of the story. Somehow, its 157 pages seemed quite a bit longer, and sometimes the action became confused or obscured because of the clever word play. It was like a meal based on ingredients I adore, but which don't quite seem to work well together.

Yes, of course, buy and read Zazie in the Metro. Its place in Europe's literary cannon and the unusual mix of characters and language is enough to make that case. Besides, it's a book that an at least mildly adventurous literate person should know. I'll just hope it will be a bit more of a treat for you than it was for me.

5-0 out of 5 stars Unique and Engaging Comedy
Raymond Queneau has written a strange but tantalizing little novel about an adolescent named Zazie... she has a New York accent, and the mouth of a Henry Miller. Her misadventures in Paris, prove challenging to those around her,and amusing to the reader. It's a collage of seemimgly misplaced dialogue and eccentric characters, yet is easy to read and laugh with.

(Note: Queneau is, I think, an underappreciated genius. You can find out more about him by looking up the book "The OULIPO COMPENDIUM" here at Amazon, which contains his extraordinary "One-hundred-trillion sonnets." "Oulipans: rats who build the labyrinth from which they plan to escape" -- Raymond Queneau).

Zazie is less of a labyrinth and more of a amusement park, a good introduction to this imaginative writer. Probably not for those easily offended (nor is "Zazie" herself), but a little treasure worth looking for ... Read more

9. Saint Glinglin
by Raymond Queneau, James Sallis
Paperback: 169 Pages (2000-05)
list price: US$11.95 -- used & new: US$7.22
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Asin: 1564782301
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The first paperback edition of the last of Queneau's novels to be translated into English. Saint Glinglin is a tragicomic masterpiece, a novel that critic Vivian Mercier said "can be mentioned without incongruity in the company" of Mann's Magic Mountain and Joyce's Ulysses. "By turns strange, beautiful, ludicrous, and intellectually stimulating" (as Mercier goes on to say), Saint Glinglin retells the primal Freudian myth of sons killing the father in an array of styles ranging from direct narrative, soliloquy, and interior monologue to quasi-biblical verse. In this strange tale of a land where it never rains, where a bizarre festival is held every Saint Glinglin's Day, Queneau deploys fractured syntax, hidden structures, self-imposed constraints (no words with the letter x until the final word of the novel), playful allusions, and puns and neologisms to explore the most basic concepts of culture. In the process, Queneau satirizes anthropology, folklore, philosophy, and epistemology, all the while spinning a story as appealing as a fairy tale. ... Read more

10. Pierrot Mon Ami (French Literature)
by Raymond Queneau
Paperback: 159 Pages (2005-03-30)
list price: US$11.95 -- used & new: US$6.94
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Asin: 1564783979
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Pierrot Mon Ami, considered by many to be one of Raymond Queneau's finest achievements, is a quirky coming-of-age novel concerning a young man's initiation into a world filled with deceit, fraud, and manipulation. From his short-lived job at a Paris amusement park where he helps to raise women's skirts to the delight of an unruly audience, to his frustrated and unsuccessful love of Yvonne, to his failed assignment to care for the tomb of the shadowy Prince Luigi of Poldevia, Pierrot stumbles about, nearly immune to the effects of duplicity. This "innocent" implies how his story, at almost every turn, undermines, upsets, and plays upon our expectations, leaving us with more questions than answers, and doing so in a gloriously skewed style (admirably re-created by Barbara Wright, Queneau's principle translator). ... Read more

Customer Reviews (3)

5-0 out of 5 stars A True Friend--Pierrot is mon ami.
This is my favorite book.Pierrot charms me more than any other character in literature, and his influence upon my growing life surpasses even that of Holden Caulfield.Pierrot is the inspiration for many of my own characters in my newly blossoming career in writing.
This book is charming, but not without tragedy and regret.It will surely touch any reader who remembers his or her own days of disillusioned youth.Anyone who remembers their days of financial dependence upon their parents or their days of becoming themselves financial independent will relate to Pierrot's loneliness and at the same time find a role model and a fantasy in his lackadaisical yet uplifting life.In this book you will find a new appriciation of life.
This is a book in which you will find a friend, a day-dream, and an inspiration.

4-0 out of 5 stars A very important book in the development of modern fiction.
'Pierrot mon ami' was written around the same time as Celine's 'Guignol's Band', and, like that controversial classic, features a passive innocent on the margins of society, with carnies, circus acts, petty ex-criminals, mad artists - at one point, like Ferdinand, Pierrot becomes an assistant to a fake fakir.

'Pierrot' has slightly more reference to the Occupation than Queneau's other novels in the period - a fire razing a giant amusement arcade is said to have been started by one of the attractions, burning chairoplanes; an uproarious journey with a boar and a chimp is arguably a figure for anti-Semitism; a bottle of Vichy water is pronounced disgusting.

Another point of reference might be Sartre's famous short story 'The Wall'.Pierrot's imprisonment may be more metaphorical than actual - he is condemned to walk the same streets every day; on the one occasion he leaves, the rest of the book's cast go with him, while the strangers he meet used to work in the area - but it provokes the same Nietzchean laughter.

I point this out to show how much 'Pierrot' is of its time - Queneau is often dismissed for refusing to 'engage'.In any case, 'Pierrot' is a supremely anti-Nazi book, with its shifting perspectives, its formal games, its narrativeand semantic gaps, its instability of character, refusing the reader the reassurance of fixity or authority.

But if 'Pierrot' is of its time, it's also ahead of it.Together with Nabokov's 'The Real life of Sebastian Knight' and Borges' Ficciones, Queneau was at this moment pioneering anti-detective fiction, that genre later populated by Pynchon, Calvino, Eco, Sciascia et al, where the conventional rules of the detective story are invoked (a mystery, investigation), but its ideological function is displaced (resolution, restoration of social order).

'Pierrot' is full of mysteries - who was the woman Jojo Mouilliminche died for?Who was the Paldovian prince whose tomb Mouzzenergues faithfully curates?Who burned the Uni-Park where philosophers pay and brawl to see brief glimpses of female flesh, the hero is sporadically employed, and where he meets the boss's daughter who will sleep with everyone but him (well, he is a pierrot)?Are these things connected?There is a proliferation of clues, coincidences and patterns, but, perhaps because of the Occupation, there is less faith in the restorative powers of the genre.

Instead of fixing things in their proper place, 'Pierrot' is a book that celebrates play - every character is in some way connected to performance, and their every appearance is like a 'bit' or 'act' on the novel's stage.

5-0 out of 5 stars The risks of chance
Pierrot turns away from CHOICE to follow coincidence, chance meetings,crossed paths, to follow, dream-like, the destiny that will take himaccross France with a tame monkey and a wild boar... A book dedicated tothe peace of accepting the direction life sets us, instead of stiding,giant steps, to determine a false life for ourselves. ... Read more

11. Witch Grass
by Raymond Queneau
Paperback: 328 Pages (2003-01-31)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$7.18
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Asin: 1590170318
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Seated in a Paris cafe, a man glimpses another man, a shadowyfigure hurrying to the train. Who is he? he wonders, and how does helive? Instantly the shadow comes to life, precipitating a series ofhilarious encounters involving a range of disreputable andheartwarming characters that prove as incredible as "real life."The Bark Tree is an enchantment itself. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (2)

5-0 out of 5 stars A French subrealism
Raymond Queneau is a first class writer and it is very strange that is not famous. His translator also is very good and was able to retain the intentions of the writer.Queneau is a subrealist that has nothing to envy to the Latin American writers of the boom.He also is hilarious and there s always something else besides the first reading, that shows a French intelectual of first rate.

5-0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, delightful, marvellous
I can't begin to explain why this book is so delightful.There are plenty of places to start with Queneau--perhaps the lighter, more accessibly funny Zazie is the best introduction--but this is my favorite.As with all of Queneau, it's a mix of silliness, absurdity, surreality, and philosophicality.He's a former philosophy student in the Hegelian tradition, but by way of the Marx brothers rather than Karl.

Like the Marx brothers, Queneau's storylines are trifles usually--but it's hard to care since his books still manage to beso uniquely humorous and thought-provoking.I won't try to explain it, but this book is such a perfect case of Queneau's marvellous ability to mix philosophy and comedy, fairy tales and tragedy, that it's a must read. ... Read more

12. We Always Treat Women Too Well (New York Review Books Classics)
by Raymond Queneau
Paperback: 200 Pages (2003-01-31)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$7.92
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Asin: 159017030X
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Set in Dublin during the 1916 rebellion, this novel tells of abeauty trapped in a post office seized by rebels. This tale celebratesthe imagination’s power to transmute crude sensationalism into purepleasure. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (3)

5-0 out of 5 stars Revolt(ing) or Reveal(ing)?
Hilarious! There is rape (maybe?); murder (war?); and an analysis of fashion.

The situational morality was the keystone of the book. Should I? Will she? If she doesn't tell did it really happen? Did it really happen?

Stereotypes abound in the characters. I have never been closer to Ireland than wading along the coast of Maine, but I felt I was there. I could see the action as it was being described.

This is a marvelous short read that ended way to soon, but couldn't have been made longer without ruining it.

4-0 out of 5 stars The Irish by the French
All of the characters in this work are minor characters in Joyce's Ulysses. Yet, this is another day, another event, and the relation to Joyce is only one of names, or is it?
This is work of frank sex and violence. The heroine? A nymphette. Who wins and are the revolutionaries really bad people? Queneau leaves that question open, prefering to unfurl the problematics of human relations in what can only be described as an unusual circumstance.
Read it.

4-0 out of 5 stars Irish revolution viewed from a bank...
Irish revolutionnaries in Dublin. They try to invest the city. We follow agroup of them in a bank. And a young woman trapped in the"lavatories" (in english in the text) fiancée of an englishcaptain... A story of innocent people who tempted to enter the history.Written in a fresh and joyful language.

For more information this book isa part of another which title is "the private diary of SallyMara" which is really worthwhile to read. ... Read more

13. The Flight of Icarus (New Directions Books)
by Raymond Queneau
Paperback: 191 Pages (1973-11)
list price: US$12.95 -- used & new: US$7.00
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Asin: 0811204839
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (2)

5-0 out of 5 stars Icarus Ascending
Hubert, a writer, has lost the main character to the novel he is, well was, writing. After viciously accusing friends and fellow writers of stealing Icarus, he hires the detective Morcol, "who has appeared in many novels under different names," to find him. Soon we meet Icarus, who is only 15 pages old and on his own in 1890 Paris, and begin to see the formation from what Hubert designed, to a real character through his first experience with absinthe, his girlfriend LN, his love of automobiles and bicycles, and his love of flying machines. Barbara Wright has done nice work with the translation although the tone does change abruptly towards the end without apparent reason (some readers may know her translation of Alfred Jarry's, Ubu Roi). Queneau wrote this novel in the form of a play which adds to the borderline absurdist and fast-paced story. One almost believes that the story is really about the process of writing a novel as characters elude and morph and disappear. This is a very easy to read, yet highly irregular work that is highly recommended for its creativity and execution. Readers may also enjoy other works by Queneau and his writing group formed in the 1960's called the OULIPO.

5-0 out of 5 stars brilliant and funny
This is the first novel I have read by queneau and I certainly plan on reading more by him."The flight of Icarus" is a hysterical novel in the form of a play, consciously parodying pirandello.It follows a young man, Icarus, the main character of a novelists new book, who escapes its pages and enters late 19th century paris.It is an amusing easy read, full of intentionally awful puns.I recommend it :). ... Read more

14. Exercices De Style (French Edition)
by Raymond Queneau
Mass Market Paperback: 158 Pages (1995-06)
-- used & new: US$6.60
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Asin: 2070373630
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15. The Lyric Encyclopedia of Raymond Queneau
by Jane Alison Hale
Hardcover: 190 Pages (1990-03-15)
list price: US$39.50 -- used & new: US$150.35
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Asin: 0472101277
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16. Raymond Queneau, un poète
by Raymond Queneau
Mass Market Paperback: 135 Pages (2001-03-14)
-- used & new: US$15.72
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Asin: 2070546306
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17. Raymond Queneau: Poems (Unicorn French Series, V. 11) (English and French Edition)
by Raymond Queneau, Teo Savory
 Paperback: 55 Pages (1971-12)
list price: US$9.95
Isbn: 0877750041
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18. Stories and Remarks (French Modernist Library)
by Raymond Queneau
Paperback: 159 Pages (2000-08-01)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$5.00
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Asin: 0803288522
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Stories and Remarks collects the best of Raymond Queneau's shorter prose. The works span his career and include short stories, an uncompleted novel, melancholic and absurd essays, occasionally baffling "Texticles," a pastiche of Alice in Wonderland, and his only play. Talking dogs, boozing horses, and suicides come head to head with ruminations on the effects of aerodynamics on addition, rhetorical dreams, and a pioneering example of permutational fiction influenced by computer language. Also included is Michel Leiris's preface from the French edition, an introduction by the translator, and endnotes addressing each piece individually.

Raymond Queneau—polyglot, novelist, philosopher, poet, mathematician, screenwriter, and translator—was one of the most significant figures in twentieth-century French letters. His work touches on many of the major literary movements of his lifetime, from surrealism to the experimental school of the nouveau roman. He also founded the Oulipo, a collection of writers and mathematicians dedicated to the search for artificial inspiration via the application of constraint.

... Read more

Customer Reviews (1)

4-0 out of 5 stars A curious mix of pieces best considered as a sampler
These pieces are followed by Notes - a section I rarely like in literature but here it is appropriate, necessary and well done.These pieces often require knowledge of the world play in French or the ability to catch allusions that are unlikely to be known by an English-language reader.A sampling of the texts included:

"Dino" is the story of an invisible dog accompanying its master on long walks in Portugal.The dog reappears in "At the Forest's Edge" - a story of a nearly deserted hotel with no cook and a sexually agressive daughter.

"In Passing", a personal favorite among these texts, tells the story of a couple, a beggar and a passerby twice - changing the gender of the roles between the two tellings.

"The Cafe de La France" is a bleak view of Le Havre as decimated by the war - a very effective piece mulling over writing and childhood in the context of the ruined city.

"The Trojan Horse" occurs in a bar where a horse from Troyes insists on purchasing drinks for a couple drinking only water and planning to "hit up" an aunt for financial assistance.

"Green With Fright" combines wordplay and dream in the story of a man unable to leave the bathroom because of his fear of the nothingness lurking in the hallway.

"Conversations in Greater Paris" is "found poetry" i.e. an assemblage of bits and pieces of conversations captured in the author's notebooks.

"Texticles" is a collection of short pieces based in some sense on word play, rhetoric, semantics - they are an excellent example of playing with words as a media rather than as a tool of communication.

"A Story of Your Own" is an early example of a tree-structure story in which after each piece of the tale, you are offered options as to what should come next.

"Some Brief Remarks Relative to the Aerodynamic Properties of Addition" is a piece that considers the movement of numbers and arithemetic symbols due to the force of the wind ... an absolute delight.

"Dream Accounts Aplenty" is a series of short dream accounts told as an example of the shortcomings of dreams as the "stuff" of writing.

The other pieces are as diverse as the ones I have mentioned.Don't read this as a relaxing narrative - it isn't; do read this as an exploration of the use of language and narrative. ... Read more

19. Les\Fleurs Bleues
by Raymond Queneau
Paperback: Pages (1978-10-01)
list price: US$24.95 -- used & new: US$24.95
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Asin: 0828837716
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20. Odile
by Raymond Queneau
Paperback: 196 Pages (1992-10-01)
list price: US$24.95 -- used & new: US$24.95
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Asin: 0686546792
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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novel, tr Carol Sanders ... Read more

Customer Reviews (4)

5-0 out of 5 stars A very moving piece of art
I'm a big big fan of Godard, and as soon as I knew his movie Band of Outsiders was inspired in some things by this novel (including Anna Karina character's name), I immediately ordered it.

This book has been one of my most enjoyable reads. It's beautiful, clever and ironic. It's also very funny when you know at least a little bit (like me) of the Surrealism movement, especially about Andre Breton.

3-0 out of 5 stars Slight Charm
Odile lacks Queneau's usual almost manic inventiveness, but it is charming and gentle, and seems largely autobiographical, so it's nice to be given some insights into Queneau's early life, his formative years as it were.

But one of my main gripes with the book is that it is overloaded with thinly veiled portraits of actual people, most of whom are scarcely developed. Unless you're thoroughly versed in the milieu of artsy 20's Paris, there's little chance you can satisfactorily follow what's going on. I suspect this book was intended more to be read by Queneau's contemporaries, as a jab at what and who he considered pretentious or downright foolish.

Roland Travy states that he was not born until his twenty-first year. It is while in the French army that year that he sees an Arab man gazing at the land and sky. Travy likens him to a poet or a philsopher and it is this image that begins to awaken his true inner being. Arriving back in Paris he falls in with Communist bohemian artists, political anarchists, pimps, and thugs. This is also where he meets Odile. In the end he accepts who he really is.

Queneau does a brillant job of showing the absurdity and humor in everything that happens in Odile. From the beginning there's a laugh when Roland states that his fellow soldiers "are really good guys and all capable no doubt of making really good butchers". The bohemians are seen as ineffectual idiots more interested in preaching to their own circle of disciples than improving the common people. They're the same posers you see nowadays in cafes preaching to each other about the sad state of humanity but having no effect upon their fate. Roland sees all this but goes along with the different movements, at least superficially. At one point he visits a seance where the spirit of Lenin is summoned and as he walks out he comments how pathetic the spectacle was. Even Roland is guilty, spending 8-12 hours a day in his apartment working with mathematical problems. He has spent years in the belief that he is a latter day Isacc Newton or an Einstein who will discover the true nature of reality through mathematics and physics. He's also too proud to admit he's in love with Odile. It wouldn't be in keeping with his image if anyone knew he was in love. At the end of the book he has a vision of what he truly is and he snaps out of the childish games of his adulthood.

This novel is funny, and I mean that in the humorous sense. The characters are a little weak except for Roland but that's to be expected in an autobiographical work. The beginning and the end of the novel pack more punch than the middle. The crisis of identity is equal to The Stranger in some passages but here we have a happy ending. A realization of meaning. Or IS it a happy ending? Roland decides to live a "normal" life and dismisses any rebellion against society as a childish act of defiance and a losing battle. You have to be assimilated sooner or later.

3-0 out of 5 stars A great writer's most autobiographical novel.
This 1937 novella is an autobiographical work, transposing, through the narrator-hero Roland Travy, Queneau's disjointed life in 1920s Paris - his rejection of his bourgeois background; his living in Paris; his military service; his struggles with his art.

Travy, returned from two years military service in a mostly clerical position, subsists in Paris on an allowance from a gay, ex-colonial uncle, conducting obscure mathematical research, lost in a fug of solipsism, passivity and a lack of self-esteem.He drifts in with a group of petty criminals, where he meets another bourgeois abscondee, Odile, and, with equal passivity, gets involved with the Infrapsychics, an eccentric group of intellectuals who hope to provoke revolution through liberating the unconscious and the irrational.

For such a small book, 'Odile' is many things: a damning account of French colonialism in North Africa - the opening scenes depicting the crushing of a local rebellion in Morocco are frightening precisely because of their un-Tolstoyan vagueness; a satire/critique/fond evocation of political and cultural life in 1920s Paris, all the groups, -isms, infighting, experiments, flirting with Communism - in particular the Surrealists, to whom Queneau was briefly affiliated (he married Andre Breton's sister), relentlessly lampooning their arbitrary games and theories, while admitting the creative debt he owes them; a love story, postponed by a hero who 'despises' bourgeois notions like 'love' and 'marriage'; and the bildungsroman of an artist who goes along with whatevercomes his way, be it the army, the Infrapsychics, criminals, Communists etc., always unhappy, but never taking the active step thta might transform his, or reconcile him to, life.

Fans of Queneau's more linguistically playful works like 'Zazie' and 'Exercises of Style' might find 'Odile' disappointing.As a love story, the figure of Odile is too idealised and symbolic to be affecting; the satire on Surrealism and its cultural milieu is too laboured and obvious to be laugh-out-loud (although this might be a problem with the flat translation: Queneau needs someone as recklessly inventive as Barbara Wright to survive in English) - there is fun to be had in recognising the fictionalised Breton, Aragon, Eluard etc., and there is an Alice-like court hearing, in which the magistrate starts interrogating Travy about Fermat's last theorem and the 'excluded middle'; the narrative of maturity is blunted by the narrator's rather unsympathetic personality, even if his aesthetics of mathematics is frequently, to this ignoramous, enrapturing, and his struggle to record his memories, imperfectly exploring the landscape of his mind with as many black holes as open spaces, is very poignant.

'Odile' has been called 'gentle', but what is most immediately apparent is the sadness and emptiness behind the logorrheic comedy.Where 'Odile' succeeds is formally and philosophically.It lacks the set-pieces of 'Zazie', but there is the same dizzying, elliptical style, what Gilbert Adair calls Queneau's 'jump cuts', the same telescoping and contracting of narrative time and space, that can be disorienting and liberating.

The novel opens with a beautiful paragraph about the narrator's (re?)birth, at 21, walking down a muddy road skirting a North African town, the rain just stopped, the last clouds caught fleeing in a puddle.Straight ahead of him stands an Arab, possibly a nobleman, a philosopher or a poet, staring at something.What that something might be, for the narrator, the reader, the novelist, the book, is what 'Odile' movingly explores. ... Read more

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