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The Great Fire of London

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  102 ratings  ·  19 reviews
Part novel and part autobiography, The Great Fire of London is one of the great literary undertakings of the last fifty years. At various times exasperating, daunting, moving, dazzling, and challenging, it has its origins in Jacques Roubaud's attempt to come to terms with the death of his young wife Alix, whose presence both haunts and gives meaning to every page. Having f...more
Paperback, 330 pages
Published May 1st 1992 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published July 1st 1991)
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"The world stretches out before us, fraught with answers, and we cannot find our tongues. In the “barrens” or “bedroom” of devastated time, we wander, not in search of answers, but in quest of questions. But unlike Perceval the Breton, if ever we find them, it is too late to revitalize the “wasteland” of our lives. I don’t even believe that the knot is cut at the last moment, at the hour of our death. The riddle remains a riddle, even after the corpse’s eyes turn into hollow shells. Whosoever so...more
Gosh. Wow.

This is good. I mean really good. Like, this could turn out to be a new favorite author of mine good.

I say this with all the normal caveats of any of my loved books, I think this is fucking awesome but I'm not recommending just anyone reading it. This isn't a novel for everyone. I can very easily imagine a lot of people hating it.

Reading it almost right after The Pale King was one of those wonderful unexpected synchronicity moments in reading. The two books worked so well together,...more
MJ Nicholls
Intellectual colonoscoping of the most elegant stripe. Roubaud’s muted conflagration opens up a Pandora’s paradigm of manners in which the prose novel (this one) can and might and will be rendered. Split into six chapters with two sets of “insertions” (interpolations and bifurcations) requiring three bookmarks, Roubaud elaborates on the unrealised theories and axioms for the unrealised novel The Great Fire of London, and digresses on more pleasant topics such as his love for bookshops, reading,...more
Eddie Watkins
Yes, for some reason Roubaud always intimidated me. Or was I simply averse to what I (thought I) knew of him – the dryness, the mathematical restraints, the logic, hell even the pomposity (dunderhead that I was)? If I had known he was this charming, humble, funny, mischievous, and unpretentiously brilliant I would have read him years ago.

I will not say anything about Oulipo or Roubaud’s involvement in it. If interested look it up for yourself. And if you're not curious about Oulipo or Roubaud's...more
I will forever cherish Roubaud's idea of drab insularity as to English literature, but other than his asides on Boston, the British Museum and what constitutes a proper croissant, I'm not sure what would weigh in my memory.

As a postscript, I do think about this work rather often. I bought Mathematics with optimistic leanings, albeit yet unrealized. The chief issue with both The Loop and Mathemmatics remains, of course, the threads which require enhanced concentration i.e. these aren't books to l...more
Nate D
Jun 27, 2012 Nate D rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: conical lamplight gradual fading into daylight
Recommended to Nate D by: 15 minutes at night to a respiratory rhythm
The howling absences of the pre-dawn, traced in (skirted by?) gentle modest (yet sharp) self-reflections on memory, images, and the ideal croissant.

In the first section of this potential novel

(in triplicate:
1. a novel is what, at the outset, Roubaud hoped might result from his writing
2. this is what the book may yet become as I read it, though this is yet unclear, and finally
3. a potential novel in the Oulipan sense of potential literature, to which this belongs, Roubaud was a member, and a st...more
I hope to write something more detailed soon but, till then, I can say that I found this both deeply moving and deeply dull, frustratingly beautiful, unfocused yet precise, a telling and a refusal to tell, a obsession with the minute to avoid the impossibly huge. It is a process undertaken by an author as a way of working through the death of his wife. It is therefore intensely personal. It is hard to begrudge him the some of his less engaging passages, as one can see that this digression is nec...more
Jacob Wren
Jacques Roubaud writes:

In fragment 252 of a book, Autobiographie, chapitre dix, I wrote the following:

Thus, approaching forty, the age when life becomes as delicate as dew, like a hunter building for himself a hut out of branches for the night, like the aging silkworm spinning its cocoon, I constructed a final shelter for my body. If I compare this dwelling with what was formerly mine, it’s truly a very tiny shack. In my declining years, my dwelling shrinks.

My present “house” covers a thirty-one...more
The mathematical/structural elements of this book went way over my head. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy the parts in which Roubaud actually talks about his life, his habits, his role as homo lisens, Louise, and the whole prose as azarole jelly comparison. Being in the position where I have to "trust" Roubaud and his rationality -- with all his double-image, reverse-palindromic jargon -- made the text difficult at times, and I felt like I had to slog through it. Roubaud is not without his charm...more
Still Roubaud's best book, and one of the great unheralded novels of the late 20th century.
No estoy muy segura sobre lo que debo decir de este libro. Por una parte, es fascinante cómo Roubaud lo construye al tiempo que explica cómo lo está construyendo. Sin embargo, va más allá del libro que se escribe sobre escribir un libro, o sobre la imposibilidad de escribir un libro. Es una novela (por llamarlo de algún modo) autobiográfica, múltiple, llena de salidas (bifurcaciones e interpolaciones) que pueden llevarte más adelante en el texto o más atrás, sin necesidad de que esto represente...more
Aspects of this one were lost on me. Unfortunately, only the shallowest thoughts on mathematics are understood, and the topic of poem structures is completely missed.

However, I did find myself connecting with Roubaud with absolute empathy many times, something I doubted would happen when I first understood the structural experiment of his project. I was right beside him in his notes on walking, swimming, and love. The provincial in me was thrilled when he disclosed his favorite room in the Univ...more
Reflections of a poet and mathematician (member of Queneau's Oulipo group) on memory, hope, and loss, both sophisticated and unashamedly naive and honest. -1 star for occasional tedium.
Aug 11, 2011 Heather marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Summer book group on post war, experimental, French, existential literature. Translation: This book is likely to be a bit depression, thought-provoking and nuanced.
A riddle, a mystery, daunting in its mathematics and in its scope. What it achieves by skirting what it sets out to achieve is both beautiful and unlikely.
This book is structurally inventive and is filled with descriptive gems, but I found it largely unreadable.
Fascinante forme d'auto(fiction?), dans la frustration voulue du non dévoilement.
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Jacques Roubaud (born 1932 in Caluire-et-Cuire, Rhône) is a French poet and mathematician.
He is a retired Mathematics professor from University of Paris X, a retired Poetry professor from EHESS and a member of the Oulipo group, he has also published poetry, plays, novels, and translated English poetry and books into French such as Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark.
Roubaud's fiction often su...more
More about Jacques Roubaud...
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