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Novels in Three Lines

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  799 Ratings  ·  114 Reviews

Novels in Three Lines collects more than a thousand items that appeared anonymously in the French newspaper Le Matin in 1906—true stories of murder, mayhem, and everyday life presented with a ruthless economy that provokes laughter even as it shocks. This extraordinary trove, undiscovered until the 1940s and here translated for the first tim
Paperback, 171 pages
Published August 21st 2007 by NYRB Classics (first published 1948)
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Feb 07, 2011 Kathrina rated it really liked it
Shelves: french, nyrb
"On the left shoulder of a newborn, whose corpse was found near the 22nd Artillery barracks, a tattoo: a cannon."

And thus begins the tale by Edgar Alan Poe...what, no. In fact, it is the story complete, published on a regular newsday on 1906 for Le Matin, a popular French broadsheet. Felix Feneon, a writer and intellectual who traveled in circles with the leading radicals of French literati of his time, humbly took a job for less than a year as the author of the faits-divers, a daily column of s
Sep 06, 2011 Tony rated it liked it
In 1906, Felix Feneon, an anarchist on his days off, wrote news items in three carefully crafted lines of one-column typeface. They read like French Haiku.


"If my candidate loses, I will kill myself," M. Bellavoine of Fresquienne, Seine-Inferieure, had declared. He killed himself.

At Saint-Anne beach, in Finistere, two swimmers were drowning. Another swimmer went to help. Finally M. Etienne had to rescue three people.

Harold Bauer and Casals will give a concert today in San Sebastian. Beside
David Schaafsma
I'm a little obsessed with this book, which I keep sharing with others. My principal interest in it was and is the form. Experimental writing, formal experiments, different ways of representing the world, all interest me. Then I teach writing courses, the world of which focuses on argument, which I resist as one interested in and committed to narrative. I like multi-genre approaches to inquiry, too. These three line "novels," or "news" (nouvelle could maybe be either in French) are really short ...more
Jan 20, 2010 Jim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: france
What a strange book! Read this one, and you will reconsider the whole notion of the French being a rarefied and civilized race. Novels in Three Lines consists of nothing hundreds of two- and three-line news pieces, usually bizarre, violent, and occasionally mysterious. Its author, Félix Fénéon (1861-1944) was at one and the same time an anarchist, a litterateur, and a champion of the arts (he discovered Toulouse-Lautrec). Yet, however well connected he was, he preferred to cling to the shadows: ...more
Jan 21, 2011 Hugh rated it it was amazing
Delightful! Could function as a lifetime of writing prompts. "Pauline Rivera, 20, repeatedly stabbed, with a hatpin, the face of the inconstant Luthier, a dishwasher of Chatou, who had underestimated her."
If you’ve wandered extensively around the Museum of Modern Art, you know this otherwise obscure author, because he’s the subject of a great painting by Paul Signac in which Félix holds a tophat and cane, and offers a flower to… no one visible. Behind him kaleidoscopic colors swirl. Signac invented psychedelia to describe Félix Fénéon – and in this book we learn why. In 1906 Félix worked at a newspaper called Le Matin, where he had a job summarizing obscure news items. This he transformed into a ...more
Apr 14, 2008 R. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009
My Novel in Three Lines:

Free ride to R.M. in a police cruiser Sept. 28 to make positive the I.D. of a prowler he caught breaking into his father's girlfriend's car at 1:30 a.m. A criminal with a fashion statement: the elegant perp's black clothes were offset with a zebra patterned hoodie.


One thing is certain: France in 1906 was a dangerous place for pedestrians and lovers.

Terrorism also was a concern, with bomb threats at just about every juncture (usually a scare tactic: bags of sand, pipes
Sep 23, 2016 Feliks rated it liked it
Thoroughly enjoyable. A book designed for easy browsing and riffling through. You can pick it up; read a few of these items, and then set it down again.

Really, it's one of the finest examples of its type I have come across. Pithy, terse, quizzical encomiums plucked from the ranks of everyday life.

Superb in their selection: suicides, venereal diseases, executions, street accidents, horses bolting, men killed cleaning their pistols, suspicious packages, foundlings and orphans, strikes, riots, em
Aug 22, 2011 Hadrian rated it really liked it
A collection of short little articles chronicling the absurd and comic and tragic events of 1904 France. The brevity and soul of a Maupassant, the journalist realism of Zola, in the length of a Tweet.
Feb 08, 2009 Zane rated it it was amazing
Before there was flash fiction, or people writing novels through text messaging, or cell phones at all for that matter, there was Félix Fénéon's 'Novels in Three Lines'. In 1906, he wrote began writing these 1,220 news summaries in three lines or less for a Parisian newspaper, mostly about theft and crime, using creative syntax to add new meanings to the events. This book collects those lines, as the title suggests, but the macabre element of each adds a violent twist that leaves me suspicious o ...more
Mar 22, 2012 Ali rated it really liked it
Pre-review, 15 May, 01:35:
Oh look! I just finished reading a book, and I'm writing a review for it right away, as opposed to waiting for five or six weeks! That hasn't happened in months. ...

And it won't happen now, because I need to slump down on the floor and pass out in a haze brought on by copious amounts of Cerveza Caguama and miserI mean, get some peaceful beauty sleep so that I may wake up, more devilishly handsome than ever before, and, after calling up the sixty-four girls whose numbers
Aug 17, 2013 Greg rated it it was amazing
Luc Sante's Introduction is Five Stars by itself. Feneon, this fascinating character, is Five Stars also.

People dying on every page. Most of the murders, suicides, accidents and the occasional miracle in 'Novels In Three Lines' could be on today's news, such is human nature. I prefer Feneon's brief descriptions to the Media News as Entertainment shows in this day and age. Today's news reporting would be better if it followed Feneon's format. I don't watch Television or listen to any Radio.

A few
Nov 07, 2007 Tosh rated it it was amazing
The perfect book for the bathtub. The Right size and you can pick it up anywhere without worrying about the narration. Felix Feneon, a French trouble-maker of the 1900's wrote three lines dealing with crime, murder, suicides, etc. for a daily newspaper. Luc Sante (the author of the incredible collection of essays "Kill All Your Darlings") edited and translated the three-lined text like headlines. Beautifully written with a dark tinge of humor, and yes only three lines!
Dec 13, 2011 Hesper rated it really liked it
A glimpse of 1906: to break up the monotony of death by passion, poverty or greed, some pilfered telephone cables, assaulted girls and old women alike, or squabbled over the value of a crucifix to schoolchildren. Fires, trains and automobiles menaced human beings. Soldiers were ubiquitous.
Siempre me acordaré de que un día un profesor de la carrera nos plantó delante de las narices un texto breve y nos preguntó si era literatura. Era un texto en primera persona sobre unos pobres diablos que estaban a punto de piñarla y a mí me pareció que sí porque tenía la fuerza dramática y la desesperación suficiente como para formar parte de un libro. Yo me imaginé que quizás era un fragmento de una novela de aventuras, pero resultó que era el último mensaje que envió la tripulación del submar ...more
Dec 07, 2013 Ellie rated it it was amazing
Novels in Three Lines is a very odd book by French anarchist and art critic Félix Fénéon. It is a collection of short news items written anonymously and appearing around the year 1906 in France (the word "news" being "nouvelles" in French and representing both "news" and "novels")written (as Emily Dickinson might have it) at a slant. Most of the news is bad-murders, suicides, some thefts. A lot of politicians in trouble for putting Christ back in the schools. An odd "story line" runs through it ...more
Aug 11, 2010 Matt rated it really liked it
Another book I've wanted to read for awhile but had to wait till I needed something to nudge an Amazon order into free shipping. And as much as I enjoyed this, I'm not sure what to make of it-- one of the perils of following a wild hair as it curls and splits, I guess.

Anyhow, this book collects all the short pieces Feneon, an anarchist and intellectual, wrote for a French newspaper in 1906-- I think it's was something like ten months worth, all little bits about the news from all around the coun
Adam Dalva
Aug 18, 2014 Adam Dalva rated it really liked it
A real find - this is a collection of 3 line newspaper reports by the enigmatic Felix Feneon. The introduction by Luc Sante is both illustrative and fantastic (it may be the high-point of the whole book.) Feneon is something of a Zelig figure whose literary output was limited, but the anonymity and fun of this particular form plays to his strengths. Think David Markson mixed with Lydia Davis, and add to that a strongly representative look at early 20th century France. The stories are often hilar ...more
Jeff Bursey
Feb 12, 2008 Jeff Bursey rated it it was amazing
My Amazon review:

None of today's major papers would print the types of obituaries and other news items Feneon wrote in the early years of the 20th century. They are mordant, cynical, joyful over the most bizarre and violent mishaps, attitudes and deaths, and crafted with the precision of a poet.

This book contains roughly one thousand 'novels' or life stories (or death stories) that summarize in the fewest words possible what a person expired of, what a city council fought over (usually religious
Feb 09, 2015 Bruno rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: francia
Notizie stravaganti, curiosi e macabri casi di cronaca nera. Uno spasso!

Alcuni scassinatori avidi di indulgenze hanno ripulito un negozio di articoli religiosi nei pressi del santuario di Clichy-sous-Bois.

La signora Olympe Fraisse racconta di essere stata aggredita nel bosco di Bordezac, nel Gard, da un satiro, che avrebbe inflitto ai suoi 66 anni ripetuti, meravigliosi oltraggi.

«Morirò come Giovanna d’Arco!» gridava Terbaud dall’alto della pira che si era costruito con i suoi stessi mobili. I
Oct 04, 2007 Katherine rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: aspiring writers, fans of history and everyone else
Utterly fascinating and completely unclassifiable. I couldn't put it down. Read individually, the pieces are polished little gems. Read collectively and chronologically they provide an exceptional and somehow intimate portrait of what France was truly like for the ordinary citizen in 1906. Here are three samples that haunt me still:

"Three is the age of Odette Hautoy, of Roissy. Nevertheless, L.Marc, who is 30, did not consider her too young."

"Finding her son, Hyacinthe, 69, hanged, Mme Ranvier,
Brent Legault
Dec 04, 2007 Brent Legault rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anonymous poets, humble anarchists
I chose to read this one straight through and don't regret it. I found it to be like quiet but oblibue poetry. (In fact, it reminded me muchly of David Markson's last four or five novels.) These faits diverses encompased a single year (1906) and, for the most part, a single country (France). And yet I could not keep track of all the suicides and stupid deeds. I'm sure I might, if I wanted to put in the time, compile a similar long list for 2006 (or any other year). But I doubt I could duplicate ...more
Jan 26, 2008 S. rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fun lovers
Shelves: nyrb, read-in-2008
I thought this was excellent and ahead of its time. Quite the quotidian adventure in the spirit of remaining objective (and ironic) in the face of a tragic, beautiful, banal and ridiculous humanity.

I stay with four stars because I'd be hard-pressed to say it's unwaveringly great. It has its weak moments, too, in which the everyday fails to get beyond the 'so what.'

But even physically, it has a lovely cover and texture.

Very worth reading & keeping one's hands on.
Feb 02, 2010 Alan rated it really liked it
Recommended to Alan by: R.M.
this was another recommendation from amazon - but I noticed I'd commented on a thread by RM recommending this book, don't know why I didn't add it then, it looks fantastic. is non fiction, but reads like little novels as the title suggests. Review will follow - I've got four or five books now to catch up with and one day when I finish the editing I'm doing I'll sit down and write them all.
Ben Loory
Oct 30, 2008 Ben Loory rated it did not like it
short turn-of-the-century news encapsulations about silly french people blowing their heads off and falling into the seine and crap like that. not terrible so much as pointless. tortured sentence structure. reaches for poetry. comes off as not-funny lines from the onion.
My video review can be found here.
Kenyatta Garcia
Feb 22, 2015 Kenyatta Garcia rated it it was amazing
An instructional manual for the art of brevity.
Mar 01, 2008 G rated it really liked it
Shelves: high-caliber
Nabokov crossed with Edward Gorey - a witty, macabre delight.
Jim Leckband
May 13, 2014 Jim Leckband rated it really liked it
Predictably, after reading "Novels in Three Lines" by Félix Fénéon, Jim Leckband tries to prove he is witty by writing his review in the same style. He is wrong.

Strano personaggio l’autore (impiegato statale, anarchico, estimatore d’arte, giornalista) e bizzarra raccolta questi romanzi in tre righe. Alcuni sono particolarmente caustici e incisivi:

Probabile opera di un buontempone il messaggio in bottiglia ritrovato a Ostenda, nel quale si annunciava il naufragio della “Speranza” – un tre alberi di Dunkerque.

Il signor Jules Kerzerho era presidente di una società di ginnastica. Il che non gli ha impedito di sfracellarsi tentando di saltare su un tram in c
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NYRB Classics: Novels in Three Lines, by Félix Fénéon 1 7 Oct 29, 2013 11:09AM  
  • Pages from the Goncourt Journals
  • Mouchette
  • My Fantoms
  • Moravagine
  • Fatale
  • No Tomorrow
  • The Widow
  • Witch Grass
  • Amsterdam Stories
  • Sheppard Lee, Written by Himself
  • Irretrievable
  • The Pure and the Impure
  • A Journey Round My Skull
  • A Schoolboy's Diary and Other Stories
  • The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert
  • The Waste Books
  • The Pilgrim Hawk
  • White Walls: Collected Stories
Félix Fénéon was a Parisian anarchist and art critic during the late 1800s. He coined the term "Neo-impressionism" in 1886 to identify a group of artists led by Georges Seurat, and ardently promoted them.

The Fénéon Prize was established in 1949 by his wife based on proceeds from the sale of his art collection.
More about Félix Fénéon...

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“A Dunkerque un certo Scheid ha sparato per tre volte alla moglie senza mai riuscire a colpirla. A quel punto ha rivolto l'arma verso la suocera. Centro.” 1 likes
“V. Petit, di Marizy-Sainte-Geneviève, nell'Aisne, voleva morire, ma in allegrezza. Così si è scolato due litri di vino e uno di acquavite, e in effetti è morto.” 1 likes
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