Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau (1947)
translated from the French by Barbara Wright
New Directions (1981)
Here is the blurb on the back of the most recent printing of the book:
First on the Society of Author’s list of THE 50 OUTSTANDING TRANSLATIONS OF THE LAST 50 YEARS (London, 2008)
On a crowded bus at midday, Raymond Queneau observes one man accusing another of jostling him deliberately. When a seat is vacated, the first man appropriates it. Later, in another part of town, Queneau sees the man being advised by a friend to sea another button on his overcoat.
Exercises in Style retells this unexceptional tale ninety-nine times, employing the sonnet and the alexandrine, “Ze French” and “Cockney.” An “Abusive” chapter heartily deplores the events; “Opera English” lends them grandeur.
In 1947, when Exercises in Style first appeared in French, it led to Queneau’s election to the highly prestigious Academie Goncourt. He once told Barbara Wright that of all of his books, this was the one he most wished to see translated. He rendered her his “heartiest congratulations,” adding: “I have always thought that nothing is untranslatable. Here is new proof. And it is accomplished with all the intended humor. It has not only linguistic knowledge and ingenuity, it also has that.”
Go, Barbara Wright!