Kathrina's Reviews > Novels in Three Lines

Novels in Three Lines by Félix Fénéon
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Feb 10, 11

bookshelves: french, nyrb
Read from February 07 to 08, 2011

"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 small news items. At the time, no one apparently noticed the skill and finesse he applied to his lines, but years later they were collected, with very little else of his writing, though he is acknowledged as the invisible support behind many a famed French author, including Proust, Apollinaire, Paul Claudel, and more. He employed, as the editor of his own publication, Revue blanche, Debussy as music critic, and Andre Gide as book critic. He translated to French works of Jane Austen and Edgar Alan Poe. It is claimed he discovered the artist Georges Seurat. He edited and published Rimbaud, James Joyce, Lautreamont.
So, you get the idea, he was an important cog in French intellectual circles, and likewise, perhaps a political activist, as well. He may or may not have thrown a bomb into a cafe normally patronized by politicians and financiers, which took the eye, by accident, of a fellow poet, Tailhade.
But Feneon reports here mostly on the more banal of news stories, not much anarchic rebellion or uprisings, but plenty of accidental and intentional death, collisions, strikes. In fact, one might think the French did nothing in the year 1906 but shoot each other, commit suicide for want of love or money, and slice themselves in half on the tracks of rails and streetcars. But while Le Monde might report, for the 56th time that year "M. Picco, of Gentilly, dies of stab wounds," Feneon artfully crafts this statement: "There had never been so much squabbling at the Picco home in Gentilly. Finally the wife's paring knife put to death the husband."
Another favorite stabbing is reported thus: "Pauline Rivera, 20, repeatedly stabbed, with a hat pin, the face of the inconstant Luthier, a dishwasher of Chatou, who had underestimated her."
If you have recently read How to Write a Sentence, which I strongly recommend you do, read this book immediately after, and you will take enormous pleasure in applying all the sentence deconstruction outlined in Fish's work upon the sculptured craft of Feneon's short prose. If you are a writer faced with an incorrigible blank canvas, pick any line at random and take it from there. If you have any interest in the ways words must pull their weight to bring meaning, you must read this book.
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message 1: by Carol (new)

Carol Beautifully stated!


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