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Eunoia: The Upgraded Edition

by Christian Bök

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5101536,994 (4.01)20
Winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize (2002) The word 'eunoia,' which literally means 'beautiful thinking,' is the shortest word in English that contains all five vowels. Directly inspired by the Oulipo (l'Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle), a French writers' group interested in experimenting with different forms of literary constraint, Eunoia is a five-chapter book in which each chapter is a univocal lipogram - the first chapter has A as its only vowel, the second chapter E, etc. Each vowel takes on a distinct personality: the I is egotistical and romantic, the O jocular and obscene, the E elegiac and epic (including a retelling of the Iliad!). Stunning in its implications and masterful in its execution, Eunoia has developed a cult following, garnering extensive praise and winning the Griffin Poetry Prize. The original edition was never released in the U.S., but it has already been a bestseller in Canada and the U.K. (published by Canongate Books), where it was listed as one of the Times' top ten books of 2008. This new edition features several new but related poems by Christian Bök and an expanded afterword. ' Eunoia is a novel that will drive everybody sane.' - Samuel Delany ' Eunoia takes the lipogram and renders it obsolete.' - Kenneth Goldsmith 'A marvellous, musical texture of rhymes and echoes.' - Harry Mathews 'An exemplary monument for 21st century poetry.' - Charles Bernstein 'Bök's dazzling word games are the literary sensation of the year.' - The Times 'A resounding success . brilliant.' - The Guardian 'Brilliant . beautiful and strange.' - Today Programme, BBC Radio 4 'Impressive.' - Sunday Telegraph 'No mere Christmas stocking filler for Countdown fans. Rather, it's an ingenious little novel . playful and irreverent . charming.' - Metro… (more)
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» See also 20 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
WOW ( )
  RODNEYP | May 19, 2021 |
This book, for me, was all about wordplay amidst rhythmic variations. The ideas themselves are abstract and some of the poems were dubious in their comprehension. Nevertheless, it was an interesting collection. ( )
  DanielSTJ | May 5, 2019 |
This book is definitely an acquired taste, and one which I would recommend only to people who love words, word games, and linguistic oddities. It just so happens that I’m one of those people. The majority of Eunoia consists of five chapters; A, E, I, O, and U. Each is dedicated to its title vowel, the only vowel to occur within the chapter. The rest of the book is a section called ‘Oiseau’ and consists of a series of clever poems/word exercises.

The first five chapters were largely enjoyable, each managing to follow a story to a greater or lesser degree. Chapter E was absolutely outstanding - a retelling of the Iliad focusing upon Helen of Troy – and for this chapter alone Bök deserves a literary prize. At the very back of the book there are rules listed for what each chapter must contain, and although I think the rules should have been placed before the ‘Oiseau’ section I was pleased that they were included after the chapters. By introducing the rules after the reader had already worked through the chapters, and enjoyed them on their own merit, it allowed the chance to reread the stories and appreciate them in a new light. The only thing which really spoils these chapters is Bök’s insistence on adding rather pervy sex scenes: it’s utterly unnecessary.

The ‘Oiseau’ section is, if possible, even more obscure. The highlights have got to be the poem containing only the letters in the word ‘vowel’ and the ode to the letter W. I adored most of this book, and have a great deal of respect for Bök’s linguistic abilities, but feel I should point out that it is really not for the average reader. ( )
1 vote Alfirin | Dec 12, 2009 |
The principal piece in this book is Eunoia, a univocalic lipogram in 5 chapters. Each chapter consists entirely of words using only a single vowel (one vowel per chapter). As with most poetry, it works best when read aloud so that the sounds can be fully appreciated. Although it's written in English there are occasional appearances of words from other languages, mostly French but also some German and Latin and at least one bit of Spanish, so a reading knowledge of these languages is handy, though not essential. I enjoyed it more for the sonic effect than for any actual plot that might have been contained within the chapters.

There is also a collection of shorter poems, entitled Oiseau, which pays homage to the French antecedents of Eunoia (i.e. lipogrammic poetry), and a brief afterword explaining the motivation behind the poems and the extra constraints imposed on Eunoia (as if writing with only one vowel were not sufficient challenge). ( )
  magnuscanis | Nov 27, 2009 |
"Eunoia, which means 'beautiful thinking', is the shortest English word to contain all five vowels."

The concept behind this book is intriguing: Five chapters, one devoted to each vowel, that vowel being the only to occur in its chapter. This could go one of two ways: Clearly, it's a wordsmithing exercise and could easily be what I refer to as "mental masturbation," or it could end up being delightfully euphonic and imaginative.

I feel Bök was striving for the latter but that the result was closer to the former. There were certainly moments, as images ethereal flitted by, evoked by words that, because of the nature of the exercise, flowed from subject to seemingly disparate subject in what felt like stream of consciousness. But then there was the awkwardness, as the meanings of words were drastically bent to make them fit the exercise, foreign-language phrases substituted for wrong-vowelled English words, and laundry lists of words gratuitously thrown in. In the end, rather than being delightful to read, I found it mostly tedious.

Eunoia describes itself as a novel, but it's more like a prose poem or concept piece. The only chapter that has any coherent sense of plot is Chapter E, a retelling of The Iliad. (Other chapters have plots, but they are so absurd and disjointed that I can't take them seriously.)

Now, my friends know that I am anything but a prude, but I found it just a bit disturbing that every chapter contained graphic sex. Then I read the explanatory pages at the very end and it made more sense:

"Eunoia abides by many subsidiary rules. All chapters must allude to the art of writing. All chapters must describe a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, a pastoral tableau and a nautical voyage. All sentences must accent internal rhyme through the use of syntactical parallelism. The text must exhaust the lexicon for each vowel, citing at least 98% of the available repertoire…. The text must minimize repetition of substantive vocabulary…. The letter Y is suppressed."

These final few pages should really have been a preface. I might have enjoyed the text more as a word game of sorts had I been aware of these subsidiary rules instead of attempting to parse it as a story.

There is more to Eunoia than the exercise in assonance. After the five single-vowelled chapters there is a small collection of "poems". These are also wordsmithing exercises, but they are more enjoyable to read. The elegy for the letter W is particularly delightful.

In conclusion, if you like clever, challenging word exercises, you might enjoy Eunoia. But if, like me, you're looking for more, you're likely to find it rather tedious. ( )
  OperaMan_22 | Sep 27, 2009 |
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Epigraph
Source of my being, and my life's support!
EUNOIA call'd in this celestial Court.

William Hayley
The Triumphs of Temper (1781)
Dedication
for the new
ennui in you
First words
Awkward grammar appals a craftsman.
Quotations
Might I mimic him in print if I find his writings inspiring?
Last words
Disambiguation notice
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize (2002) The word 'eunoia,' which literally means 'beautiful thinking,' is the shortest word in English that contains all five vowels. Directly inspired by the Oulipo (l'Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle), a French writers' group interested in experimenting with different forms of literary constraint, Eunoia is a five-chapter book in which each chapter is a univocal lipogram - the first chapter has A as its only vowel, the second chapter E, etc. Each vowel takes on a distinct personality: the I is egotistical and romantic, the O jocular and obscene, the E elegiac and epic (including a retelling of the Iliad!). Stunning in its implications and masterful in its execution, Eunoia has developed a cult following, garnering extensive praise and winning the Griffin Poetry Prize. The original edition was never released in the U.S., but it has already been a bestseller in Canada and the U.K. (published by Canongate Books), where it was listed as one of the Times' top ten books of 2008. This new edition features several new but related poems by Christian Bök and an expanded afterword. ' Eunoia is a novel that will drive everybody sane.' - Samuel Delany ' Eunoia takes the lipogram and renders it obsolete.' - Kenneth Goldsmith 'A marvellous, musical texture of rhymes and echoes.' - Harry Mathews 'An exemplary monument for 21st century poetry.' - Charles Bernstein 'Bök's dazzling word games are the literary sensation of the year.' - The Times 'A resounding success . brilliant.' - The Guardian 'Brilliant . beautiful and strange.' - Today Programme, BBC Radio 4 'Impressive.' - Sunday Telegraph 'No mere Christmas stocking filler for Countdown fans. Rather, it's an ingenious little novel . playful and irreverent . charming.' - Metro

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Book description
The word ‘eunoia,’ which literally means ‘beautiful thinking,’ is the shortest word in English that contains all five vowels. Directly inspired by the Oulipo (l’Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle), a French writers’ group interested in experimenting with different forms of literary constraint, Eunoia is a five-chapter book in which each chapteris a univocal lipogram – the first chapter has A as its only vowel, the second chapter E, etc. Each vowel takes on a distinct personality: the I is egotistical and romantic, the O jocular and obscene, the E elegiac and epic (including a retelling of the Iliad!).
Stunning in its implications and masterful in its execution, Eunoia has developed a cult following, garnering extensive praise and winning the Griffin Poetry Prize. The original edition was never released in the U.S., but it has already been a bestseller in Canada and the U.K. (published by Canongate Books), where it was listed as one of the Times’ top ten books of 2008.
This new edition features several new but related poems by Christian Bök and an expanded afterword.

(Coach House Books)
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Canongate Books

2 editions of this book were published by Canongate Books.

Editions: 1847672396, 1847672442

 

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