Exercises in Style
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Exercises in Style

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4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  3,455 ratings  ·  268 reviews
The 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.
Paperback, 204 pages
Published February 17th 1981 by New Directions (first published 1947)
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The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupéryLes Misérables by Victor HugoThe Stranger by Albert CamusThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre DumasMadame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Best French Literature
57th out of 499 books — 940 voters
If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo CalvinoHouse of Leaves by Mark Z. DanielewskiPale Fire by Vladimir NabokovCloud Atlas by David MitchellSlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Oulipo,etc.
15th out of 198 books — 162 voters


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Community Reviews

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Manny
Meta

From what point of view should I review the book? Evidently: from all possible points of view.

Snobbish

Needless to say, I am reading the original French edition. I can hardly believe that his delicate linguistic irony would survive translation into English. Quelle horreur!

Vulgar

I laughed until I wet myself. Well, I should know better than to read this kind of book in the bathroom.

Pedantic

If nothing else, very educational. I have already learned the names of two figures of speech I didn't prev...more
Scribble Orca
Sep 22, 2013 Scribble Orca rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Scribble by: Barbara Wright
-- Who the fuck writes the same thing 99 times over? Pretentious twit! Don't bother.

-- A masterpiece of style, grammar, innovation, elegance, a tour de force of wizardry, erudition, humour and social commentary. Chapeau M'sieur Queneau.

-- I didn't really get the headings. Were those meant to be chapters?

-- Mate, don't be late, address the great and adumbrate, there'll be a spate, the rules conflate, all congregate and share the plate.

-- Wright achieves that rare symbiosis between writer and tran...more
Geoff
Only one book has ever “changed my life” (god, if only things were so simple that a book could change your life!) and that is Joyce’s Ulysses, and that only in terms of my ideas of dedication and rigor. It certainly didn’t unearth profound aspects of my personality that until that point were latent, it didn’t give me any guiding path in life to tread, it didn’t suddenly instill value into things that I before considered to be without value. What it primarily did was to show me the results of ded...more
Ian Paganus
Blurb

(view spoiler)

MJ Nicholls

(view spoiler)...more
Megha

Pearls before a swine? Perhaps.

It definitely takes a lot of talent for someone to tell one completely unremarkable story 99 times and still make a fun and readable book out of it. What Queneau (and the translator) has done here is really clever work, no doubt. And I can imagine this whole exercise must have been very amusing for him. But that doesn't mean reading it will be just as enjoyable as writing it was.**

These are exercises in writing in English (originally French). I do have some working...more
Hadrian
The premise of this book is simple - a little anecdote about a man on a bus, a story so bland that you wouldn't even put it into your cycle of small talk. This book is not bland because the execution is dazzling. Queneau tells the same story in over a hundred different ways, ranging from Operatic English to Tanka to onomatopoeia to set theory to high art to Cockney slang.

Such a book would normally be untranslatable, and there are some noticeable changes from the original. Cockney slang is a subs...more
Drew
I feel like this book's high average rating is caused mostly by the fact that the only people who would even know about it are the sort of people who'd like it. So, though I didn't hate it completely, I'm here to offer a dissenting opinion:

This book kind of sucks.

It's a short, anticlimactic anecdote about a scuffle on a bus, told in 99 different styles. I imagine this is already enough to turn off most people, but in case this still sounds really good to you, be apprised that none of those styl...more
Fionnuala
This is a lot of fun at the beginning as you realise exactly what Queneau has challenged himself to do here: rewrite the same little scene about a gangly young man in a badly fitting overcoat and an odd hat, in different styles, ninety-nine times! After number twenty however, the various word play games are no longer quite as funny. After number forty, you’re pretty sceptical about Queneau's mental health. By number sixty, you’re seriously worried about your own. By number eighty, you’re seeing...more
MJ Nicholls
* Edit: May 13 2011 *

I finally bought a copy of this ingenious little number and read it through again. I think my favourite mode has to be ‘Reactionary,’ where the narrator makes angry pronouncements on the world around him while telling the bus altercation story. It wasn’t as funny the second time around, but nothing ever is, sadly. I looked up some of the more specific verse forms that escaped me on the first read and smiled more knowingly. (A more knowing smile involves greater purchase on t...more
Whitaker
This was The Well-Tempered Clavier, but in writing.

Given its status and how loved this book seems to be on GR, I feel somewhat like it’s an epic F.A.I.L on my part to not have been blown away by it. But seriously, guys, I don’t get it.

It’s clever, I’ll give you that. Other than that, it’s mostly gimmicky, sometimes amusing, and occasionally interesting. I liked the episodes rewritten as told by a yokel or in mangled French as spoken by an English person (amusing), as well as the episodes rewri...more
Aldrin
On Exercices de Style, considered his masterpiece and most influential work, Raymond Queneau said, “People have tried to see it as an attempt to demolish literature--that was not at all my intention. In any case my intention was merely to produce some exercises; the finished product may possibly act as a kind of rust-remover to literature to help to rid it of some of its scabs. If I’ve been able to contribute a little to this, then I am very proud, especially if I have done it without boring the...more
Eddie Watkins
This shames me to say but I was not originally on the bus with Queneau's Exercises in Style, yet I pretended to be, sitting right beside the dude with the long neck and the eccentric hat. I was not being myself, not beating my own drum, passengers stepping all over my feet, but I could not get off the bus. Shamed if I did, shamed if I didn't. So I sat there reading his proper novels, genuinely enjoying them as the bus jostled and my feet hurt and the long neck irked me. Damn sheepish passengers!...more
Adam Floridia
A million points for creativity, I'll give it that. A short, two paragraph vignette repeated 99 times, but each in a different style really illustrates the protean (and fun!) nature of language. There have been quite a few books that have caused me while reading to think "If I ever teach a creative writing class, I've got to use this!" Well this book actually coerced me into creating a new shelf "to-assign-in-creative-writing-class." Happy New Year! Will it be a Happy New Year? Miserable Old Day...more
knig
.... --- .-- -- .- -. -.-- ..-. ..- -.-. -.- .. -. --. - .. -- . ... -.. --- .. .... .- ...- . - --- ... .- -.-- - .... .. ... -... . ..-. --- .-. . .. - ... .. -. -.- ... .. -. ---... .- -- .- -. --- -. .- -... ..- ... .... .- ... .- -... ..- - - --- -. .-.-.-
Glenn Russell
One very effective way I have found to squeeze the juice of wisdom from the books I read is to write a book review, which forces me to formulate my ideas and opinions in precise and clear (at least that is my intent) language. However, with Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style, we have a book that contains not only wisdom but many flavors of linguistic magic. Thus, I need to do more than simply write a book review. I found the solution: I read Barbara Wright's translation aloud, recording my voi...more
Scribble Orca
Sep 22, 2013 Scribble Orca rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Since appearing to be the caboose....
Recommended to Scribble by: Barbara Wright
The review of Barbara Wright's translation: here

La plus humoristique (citation directe!):

"En partie double.
Vers le milieu de la journée et à midi, je me trouvai et montai sur la plate- forme et la terrasse arrière d'un auto - bus et d'un véhicule des transports en commun bondé et quasiment complet de la ligne S et qui va de la Contrescarpe à Champerret. Je vis et remarquai un jeune homme et un vieil adolescent assez ridicule et pas mal grotesque : cou maigre et tuyau décharné, ficelle et cordeli...more
Riku Sayuj
May 20, 2014 Riku Sayuj marked it as on-a-break  ·  review of another edition
Exercises and experiments in learning...
Ben Winch
OK, I get it. Finally a Queneau I can relate to! Yeah, the translation is wobbly – beset by insurmountable challenges from the get-go. But because experimentation is front and centre the wobbly English is excused, expected, acquires charm from striving after the impossible. (Still and all, translating ‘Paysan’ with ‘West Indian’ seemed random and misguided to me. Maybe some permutations could simply have been dropped?) Anyway I’m not sure what depth there is here, but there’s laughs, and it’s th...more
Riku Sayuj
Amazing amazing book!
Bruce
Mar 13, 2013 Bruce rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone with an interest in writing, poetry, storytelling, or humor
Recommended to Bruce by: Ian Paganus



EXERCISES IN STYLE
The Motion Picture

OPEN ON:

INT. CROWDED CITY BUS – DAY

Engine rumbling becoming

(BEETHOVEN'S 7th, ALLEGRETTO MVT.)

A boorish OAF jockeys for a prime position among the enclosing strap-hangers.

NEWSPAPER READER
Oye! My foot!

PINSTRIPED SUIT
Easy there.

GROCERY BAG LADY
Please, young man!

The SMOLDERING HALF-MASCARA'D EYES of BOWLER, himself pressed in five girths down. Watching.

EXT. URBAN STREET

The bus pulls to the curb.

INT. BUS

A pensioner rises and exits.

Deftly as a trapeze artist,...more
Ademption
Raymond Queneau tells an innocuous micro-story about a testy guy on a bus, whom later he spots elsewhere. The content of the story is meaningless, and actually the foundation of a series of exercises where the same story is retold in 99 variants. A variable, style, or theme is foregrounded in each entry: biased, reactionary, auditory, gustatory, colors, logical analysis, haiku, etc. Initially, I was charmed by how the shift in emphasis reframes an entire story and makes subsequent entries seem f...more
C.
I enjoyed this much more in French than in English, and can't find any reason for this except that I must have changed a lot in the three years or so between the readings. I was, I think, much more interested (and convinced) by the central concept and its artistic (as opposed to merely conceptual) merit this time around. The repetitive description of such a mundane event elevates it to something resembling art and allows some very interesting (and often meta) things to be done, such as finishing...more
Stela

« C’est en écrivant qu’on devient écriveron. »

C’est-à-dire, il faut se concentrer sur le « comment » plutôt que sur le « quoi » du texte. C’est-à-dire, même un thème « assez mince » (selon les propres mots de l'auteur) peut « grossir » (selon ma propre blague douteuse ☺) si on sait comment la communiquer. C’est-à-dire, la forme prévaut sur le contenu. Parfois jusqu’à le remplacer.

Ou c’est ce qu’il paraît énoncer ce petit livre au titre écolier qui nous détourne dès le début. Seulement s’il pour...more
Karl
Funny, imaginative and burlesque, Queneau's Exercises In Style is a brilliant piece of experimental writing, ostensibly about nothing in particular and at the same time essentially about writing something in particular: Stories.

In Exercises In Style, Raymond Queneau exposes the artifice of writing.

Here's the plot and let's use the word plot loosely here: On a crowded bus at midday, the narrator observes one man accusing another of jostling him deliberately. When a seat is vacated, the first man...more
C.
Evidently Raymond Queneau sat down one day and decided it would be just dandy to write a cute little story about someone watching a man being jostled on the bus and then seeing the same man a bit later being told he needed an extra button on his coat. Evidently he was so taken with this story that he decided to rewrite it again in a different style. 99 times.

Now this takes pastiche to a whole new level, and I was never quite sure what he was trying to achieve. I guess it was just an attempt to...more
Simona Bartolotta
E' geniale e divertente oltre ogni immaginazione. Non me lo sarei mai aspettato, sinceramente. Certo, non tutti gli "stili" raggiungono l'eccellenza, ma a compensare il dislivello ci sono alcuni esperimenti che 1) fanno sbellicare, e 2) ti fanno pensare: "Ma come caspita gli è venuto in mente?" o, in alternativa: "E' così semplice che avrei potuto benissimo pensarci io", al che ti danni perché ti rendi conto che l'effetto che può avere la semplicità -se unita al talento, ovviamente- è oltremodo...more
jeremy
raymond queneau's brilliant 1947 classic could have as easily been titled achievements of ingenuity. written more than a decade before he would co-found the workshop of potential literature (oulipo), exercises in style is one of the preeminent examples (and executions) of constrained writing. beginning with a short account of an entirely inconsequential event, queneau tells the same episode ninety-nine times, but with each entry written using whatever stylistic limitation he's opted to incorpora...more
Tosh
The most essential book for ANY writer. Genius-like Raymond Queneau gives us a brief narrative and re-writes it over and over again. The way of looking at a simple story is uplifting to a great height.

This new addition has added more 'exercises' plus additional works by Johathan Lethem. Harry Mathews, Lynne Tillman, and my current fave Enrique Vila-Matas, among others. And one wonders how many times can one tell a tale? The answer is endless.

The beauty of looking at a subject matter and tearing...more
Jim Elkins
I returned to Queneau’s Exercises in Style to help me think a little more about the contemporary “conceptual poetry” and unoriginality movement associated with Craig Dworkin, Marjorie Perloff, Kenny Goldsmith, and others. These remarks start with the contemporary movement, and then I turn to Queneau.

1. The current state of constrained writing
The current movement explores unoriginality as a theme, and it is itself historically unoriginal. Its interest in writing constrained by rules develops them...more
Nate D
Jul 07, 2011 Nate D rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: seekers of sound sartorial suggestions
Recommended to Nate D by: scenes overheard on public transit
Oulipan mastermind R. Queneau observed a brief bus-bound argument and its surprisingly button-related denouement some time in 1942, then just could not stop retelling the story in wildly different linguistic, rhetorical, and literary forms. It's not only an impressive, wildly inventive, and somehow totally amusing experiment in language and narrative, it's also a completely heroic act of translation into english.
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15957
Queneau was born in Le Havre in 1903 and went to Paris when he was 17. For some time he joined André Breton's Surrealist group, but after only a brief stint he dissociated himself. Now, seeing Queneau's work in retrospect, it seems inevitable. The Surrealists tried to achieve a sort of pure expression from the unconscious, without mediation of the author's self-aware "persona." Queneau's texts, on...more
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