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Sphinx

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3.77  ·  Rating details ·  1,611 ratings  ·  234 reviews

Sphinx is the remarkable debut novel, originally published in 1986, by the incredibly talented and inventive French author Anne Garréta, one of the few female members of Oulipo, the influential and exclusive French experimental literary group whose mission is to create literature based on mathematical and linguistic restraints, and whose ranks include Georges Perec and Ita

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Paperback, 152 pages
Published April 21st 2015 by Deep Vellum Publishing (first published February 19th 1986)
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Average rating 3.77  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,611 ratings  ·  234 reviews


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Nate D
Apr 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: the metaphysics of love
Recommended to Nate D by: after hours clubs
Besides the constraint driving this, which would be even more amazing to gradually feel out had it not been spelled out by the back cover and everything to refer to this book*, this is just a gorgeous piece of writing and very atmospheric exploration of the nocturnal life of a city. The fact that Garreta (the first female member of the oulipo reach English translation!) is able make this so elegantly readable, and also so dense and involving despite its being, essentially, a simple love story, i ...more
Ronald Morton
Mar 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Remembering saddens me still, even years later. How many exactly, I don’t know anymore.Ten or maybe thirteen. And why do I always live only in memory? Soul heavy from too much knowing, body tired from feeling pensive and powerless at the same time, so riven by this obsessive ennui that nothing, or almost nothing, can distract it anymore. Back then, if I recall correctly, I used to describe the world as a theater where processions of corpses danced in a macabre ball of drives and desires. My cont
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Mary ~Ravager of Tomes~
This is an Oulipian novel, meaning it is part of a workshop consisting largely of French writers and mathematicians aspiring to create works that operate within certain writing constraints. One of the most famous examples of this writing comes in the form of La Disparition, written by Georges Perec, which omits the use of the letter "e."

I won't mention here what restriction Sphinx employs, as I feel it's better to go in blind. That means keeping away from the Introduction.

But suffice it to say t
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Antonomasia
A book known more because of pronouns than plot, as a friend said of Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice. Though unlike the Leckie, which I wasn't that keen on, I'd have read Sphinx much sooner if only I'd registered its milieu. It's going to irk some people, including at least one GR friend, that I, like a lot of book blogs this year, won't be treating Sphinx's Oulipian constraint as a spoiler issue. But if I hadn't known it, I probably still wouldn't have got round to reading the book. Although I'd ...more
Nicole
So, the actual book is excellent.

The constraint was spoiled for me, which is a shame, because I think it has much more of a direct effect on the writing than people who are whirled off into identity politics and political points understand. Indeed, I believe this is the point of constrained writing, both for the writer and for the reader: it focuses the attention on the language, on how it is used, how words are actually put down on the page all the way through, a million tiny decisions leading
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jeremy
Jun 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, translation
one of only a handful of female members of the esteemed oulipo, french novelist anne garréta is the first amongst them to have a work translated into english. sphinx, published when she was only 23, was garréta's first novel - written 14 years before she was invited to join the workshop of potential literature. despite it pre-dating her membership in oulipo, sphinx is, as fellow oulipian daniel levin becker points out in his wonderful introduction, nonetheless, a "consummately oulipian" work.

wri
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Tosh
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
A really nice mood piece of writing here. Anne Garréta gives the nighttime life of Paris and Manhattan a nice smokey touch, as this is a tale of lovers, one is a combination of professor and DJ, and the other lover is an American dancer in Paris. What we don't know is the gender of either of the two. Which must have been hell for the translator Emma Ramadan to do, since the French language has very strong genderistic touches to their language. In all honesty, as I was reading, I was imagining th ...more
Cody
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: freedom-fries
Two bits were just far too unbelievable to not pull me out of the story. Two words for those that have read it: septic tank. What the fuck? Brilliant passages and damn important intentions, though.
Jay Hamm
Jun 07, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2016
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
l.
Mar 18, 2016 rated it did not like it
i'm so glad that i was never a francophile.

the whole conceit of this book - what a way to avoid dealing with very real issues. (though, not saying that it would deal with them, or deal with them well, look how the book deals with the inter-racial aspect of the romance).

also our ~*genderless*~ narrator....

'I could no longer bear the assault of this ambient vulgarity. Behind the simulacrum of festivity and opulence, I witnessed the most sordid trafficking and seediest machinations, sheepishly disg
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Caroline
The narrator decides to return part time to the university theology studies that he had abandoned shortly before he fell into the world of cabarets and chic nightclub DJing. He will write his thesis on the apophatic tradition.

This (apophasis) is an approach to knowing and understanding God that uses only what can be identified as what we don't or can't know about God. A negative approach. Which is just what Garreta does here by denying us knowledge of the gender of either the first person narra
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musa b-n
Feb 19, 2019 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lisa
Dec 15, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one!!
To say that I HATED this book would be a gross understatement. I was incredibly intrigued by the oulipian writing style and had never heard of it. I was also very curious about how she would approach writing the main characters without announced gender. From about page 30 I started to feel that the narrator is a narcissistic psychopath without any redeeming qualities. I don't feel as though the author masked the genders well (the narrator was obviously a male to me, while A**** was either female ...more
rosalind
ok, i wanted SO badly to love this book. i really did. the writing is beautiful - i very much commend emma ramadan for her work on this translation. it's overwrought, yeah, but that's part of its charm. i'm a sucker for misery and unending ennui. & i can see how writing a gender-neutral novel in french would give you a lot of difficulties that a non-gendered language wouldn't.

but i just can't take any more of this (view spoiler)
...more
Ruby
Aug 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: translation, y2016, here
a little more in awe of this than that i really fell for it. still, such a remarkable feat.
G.
Oct 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was finally being granted what I had been after for a long time: the chance to be the shadow of a body whose own is stolen by the spotlight.

Anne Garréta’s debut Sphinx can be easily considered part of the Oulipo movement, despite the fact that she became a member way after its publication. Oulipo members like their restrictions, and in Sphinx Garréta experiments with language (Garréta is French) to conceal the genders of the narrator and the narrator’s lover A***. At first glance Sphinx is
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Elizabeth
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Set in the nightclubs of Paris, the genderless novel recounts an affair between a cabaret dancer and a DJ. I saw a lot myself in the protagonist-- simultaneously attracted to his/her nocturnal existence but defeated by ennui. The way Garréta describes the unusual intimacy of people who live at night is very moving and perceptive. I've never read it described so perfectly. Alternating between a monastic life of theological study and a hedonistic one of rubbing shoulders with drug addicts, mobster ...more
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
May 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A genderless love story that forces us to consider gender, love, language and death. The afterword by translator Emma Ramadan highlights the achievement of Anne Garetta in doing this in an especially gendered language, French, and enables a deeper understanding of the text.
Deniz
Mar 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Angela Natividad
Sep 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a treasure. It has changed the way I think about writing, the way I want to write, changed how I think about love affairs and the way we frame them in our storytelling. I also love the idea of the Oulipo.

If you read it, don’t read reviews and don’t read the back cover. Read it pure. Otherwise you will inevitably miss its great achievement. And it will be a massive loss.
Chad
Jun 02, 2016 rated it it was ok
so fucking french. so much ennui. the opening scene is great; wanted more of that.
Emily
Feb 25, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2021
i feel like if i read this again in 10 years i might understand it better, but as of right now, this introspective piece of literature really slapped me in the face and called me illiterate. 2.5 for the concept of genderless main characters, but otherwise the writing style just wasn't my piece of cake, hence it took me so damn long to read it all ...more
Lilyana
Feb 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2021
this book made me feel stupid so many times and it took me a month to get through the first 50 pages. but oh boy do i love the story and the characters.
i am, in a way, heartbroken by the ending and even cried a few times.

starting "Sphinx" i thought i won't be able to enjoy it because of the writing style and how hard it was for me to read it. so many new and complicated words that made me feel so dumb, but once i focused fully on the story and tried to ignore everything else - i started loving i
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Chase Bell
Nov 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
need to read like 5 more times
Aaron (Typographical Era)
Apr 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
With sexes mixed and genders blurred Anne Garreta’s spectacular debut novel forces us to challenge our most deep-seated beliefs when it comes to dealing with matters of the heart. Though the people that swirl around them are clearly defined as being either male or female, Sphinx’s nameless narrator and their love interest A**** have broken free from this constraint and have elevated both themselves and their relationship to a place where gender markers no longer hold any relevance. With these ar ...more
Thomas
Apr 14, 2015 rated it liked it
I was pretty excited to be among the first people to read the story in English. I picked up my copy from the Deep Vellum booth at AWP 2015 in Minneapolis and finished it just a few days later. It's a short read, 120 pages, that's definitely worth looking into for anyone with a real appreciation for the craft of writing.

That said, I found the story to be pretty lackluster. The characters were underdeveloped and at times flat out unbelievable, the plot was much of the same, and the settings, local
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Lau
Dec 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school-readings
Anne Garréta is part of the OuLiPo, a group of authors who give themselves restrictions as for the formal part of the book they write. So I was expecting something different, and Sphix was, in fact, something I had never read; the narrator and the other main character are not given a gender. Whenever there's a clue in the text that could give it away, it is immediately contradicted by another information that leads towards the opposide gender. It is quite amusing to try and figure out if "I" is ...more
Rachel
Apr 19, 2016 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tom Buchanan
Feb 05, 2016 rated it it was ok
The whole "is it a guy or a girl" would go basically unnoticed if the back of the book and every article didn't keep at it. The parts about DJing were the most interesting, and if you've ever had to talk to a DJ you know how low a bar that is. ...more
Paul Fulcher
Jun 17, 2015 rated it liked it
Anne Garréta was the first female Oulipan, albeit this novel was written in 1986 immediately before she became a member. Arguably the English translator Emma Ramadan merits admission also on the strength of this translation alone.

Fellow Oulipan Daniel Levin Becker highlights in his introduction the case of a French critic who read Perec's La Disparition and gave it a lukewarm review in Les Nouvelles litteraires, without noticing it's now famous Oulipan constraint, the absence of the letter E. T
...more
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Anne F. Garréta (born 1962) is a French novelist and a member of the experimental literary group Oulipo. A graduate of France’s prestigious École normale supérieure and lecturer at the University of Rennes II since 1995, Anne F. Garréta was co-opted into the Oulipo in April 2000. She also teaches at Duke University as a Research Professor of Literature and Romance Studies. Her first novel, Sphinx ...more

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