Exercises in Style - Raymond Queneau
This is a fascinating, and as far as I know, unique book. It presents a very simple story, an encounter on a crowded tube train with a brief meeting later the same afternoon. Nothing special in that you may think. What is unique about this book is not the story, but the way in which it is presented, or ways in which it is presented to be more accurate, for the same story is presented 99 times.
Now we may at first wonder that there are nine, let alone 99 different ways of describing such a simple tale. The magic of the book is the multiplicity of styles Queneau uses. We might imagine the story told from the different perspectives of the participants. But imagine it observed passively, or described by someone hesitatingly, or with extreme precision. Imagine it told through a sonnet, or a play, or in a tactile way, as the notes in a policeman’s notebook, or focussing on sounds, through spoonerisms, or by a mathematician.
The result is that one is left thinking that there are so many more ways that even such a simple story could be told.
The effect is many fold. Never again will I be able to see a description of anything without being aware of just how partial that description must be. It illuminates the reality of multiple perspectives from which everything can be seen.
For the writer, reader, speaker and listener it changes the way you perceive the description of everything. Opening up new opportunities and raising countless new questions. This is a truly fascinating book, which has become a timeless classic.
August 9 2007