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The Great Fire of London

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  150 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
I ve devoted myself to the enterprise of destroying my memory . . . I set fire to it, and with its debris I charcoal-scrawl the paper. 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 ...more
Paperback, 330 pages
Published May 1st 1992 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published January 1st 1988)
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Geoff
Jun 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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
Greg
Apr 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, dalkey
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
May 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: french-fiction
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
Jonfaith
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
Ronald Morton
There are, to me, three things that are important to know going into this book.

1. Jacques Roubaud was a professor of mathematics
2. Jacques Roubaud was a professor of poetry
3. Jacques Roubaud is a member of the Oulipo group

Sub item of all three – Roubaud’s first book was a “collection of mathematically structured sonnets” (published by Raymond Queneau).

As mentioned in many of the reviews I’ve written on the site, I have a tendency to approach books as blindly as possible; it’s typically only afte
...more
Nate D
Apr 26, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Jonathan
Feb 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
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
Joseph
Jun 29, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mark
Dec 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Still Roubaud's best book, and one of the great unheralded novels of the late 20th century.
Chris
Oct 20, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: experimental
This was originally published at The Scrying Orb.

In his youth, Jacques Roubaud had a dream that changed his life. The dream, which was honestly little more than him getting off a train in London and observing the passerby, revealed the following:

- He must write a novel, titled The Great Fire of London.
- He must compose an extensive poetry project, which he called the Project.
- The novel and the poetry must be intertwined completely.
- The poetry Project must also be a math project (Roubad’s secon
...more
Martin Ledstrup
Roubaud is hyped, and for good reasons. He is a sort of inverted Proust, where the text winds - through memory - towards its own not creation, as in Proust, but destruction. Which, paradoxically, makes the novel exist. Some of the passages are pure genius. But I do find the whole Oulipo fetish with form quite tiresome and superficial. This review was for volume 1. Maybe the remaining volumes will change my opinion.
Kbrooke
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
With its wisdom, finely wrought observations, intense self-reflection, wit, and formal complexity (digressions, multiple plotting, the need to jump back and forth just to follow its trains of thought) one must get to know this book very much as one gets to know a human: with patience, sustained attention, and an earnest investment of time. Then again, Roubaud had me at "Bonjour." One of my most rewarding reading experiences in a while, and my intro to the world of Oulipo, where I plan to be spen ...more
Susana
Dec 06, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tesis
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
Andy
Apr 08, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
John Trefry
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
the great fire of london is a text in place of a text, a text in place of a project, a text in place of the life it consumed, it also makes possible the things that it replaces, the text that it replaces, that failed aspiration, is in fact contained within the text that laments it, it is nominally invoked, a luminous plasma that birthed the failure and also maintained the failure long enough for it to expire and leave a ruin, which is what we find in it, the project and the life that sought it a ...more
David Markwell
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jacques Roubaud's The Great Fire of London is at turns endlessly diverting and endlessly heartbreaking. After the death of his young wife Roubaud writes to fill his days and nights and get on with his life. What we are given as a reader is an intimate look into a beautiful soul doing his best to cope with a staggering loss. Described (by Roubaud) as a novel with insertions and bifurcations Roubaud leads us through the text in a nonlinear fashion. This is reading in a completely different way the ...more
Beth
I have tried, in vain, to read these tragic reflections of a shattered man. I stuck with it for months, hoping against hope that his act of writing would eventually provide him with some consolation. It did not.

I am not a therapist; but if I were, I would require some QUITE SUBSTANTIAL financial rewards for allowing a patient to dump this much despair on me.
Meredith
Dec 02, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Matthew
Jan 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
so oulipo
Sofia
It's one of them indispensable reading experiences, y'all
Peter
Jan 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Adrien
Mar 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinante forme d'auto(fiction?), dans la frustration voulue du non dévoilement.
Johnathan
This book is structurally inventive and is filled with descriptive gems, but I found it largely unreadable.
Heather
May 27, 2011 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.
Greg Bem
rated it it was amazing
Apr 05, 2015
Edward
rated it liked it
Aug 06, 2011
Zach
rated it really liked it
Aug 21, 2008
Rowland
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Dec 26, 2007
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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...