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Novels in Three Lines

by Félix Fénéon

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5211238,179 (3.94)20
A NEW YORK REVIEW BOOKS ORIGINAL Novels in Three Lines collects more than a thousand items that appeared anonymously in the French newspaper Le Matin in 1906--true stories of murder, mayhem, and everyday life presented with a ruthless economy that provokes laughter even as it shocks. This extraordinary trove, undiscovered until the 1940s and here translated for the first time into English, is the work of the mysterious Félix Fénéon. Dandy, anarchist, and critic of genius, the discoverer of Georges Seurat and the first French publisher of James Joyce, Fénéon carefully maintained his own anonymity, toiling for years as an obscure clerk in the French War Department. Novels in Three Lines is his secret chef-d'oeuvre, a work of strange and singular art that brings back the long-ago year of 1906 with the haunting immediacy of a photograph while looking forward to such disparate works as Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project and the Death and Disaster series of Andy Warhol.… (more)
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English (8)  Italian (3)  Dutch (1)  All languages (12)
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Marvelous, weird, grim, blackly funny. Originally published in the French newspaper Le Matin in 1906 as "Faits-divers," (literally, "diverse facts"), Feneon constructed these precursors to flash [non]fiction based on newswire and other provincial newspaper reports. Murder. Suicide. Rape. Domestic abuse - marital, adulterous, child sexual. Road accidents. Festival queens. Rabid dogs. Local politics. Disputes over crucifixes in classrooms. And who knew the French carried so many guns?! Each drama compressed into three lines of type, which managed to include the requisites of who, where, how, and why, and frequently a single word of dry comment. Read them as though they were haiku, in no particular order (only very rarely does a single event get more than one, though there are multiple thefts of telegraph cables mentioned).

Among my favorites: "In the vicinity of Noisy-sur-Ecole, M. Louis Delillieau, seventy, dropped dead of sunstroke. Quickly his dog Fido ate his head." and "Two mayors in the Somme were determined to restore to classroom walls the image of divine torture. The prefect suspended those mayors."

Feneon was an eccentric, writing and editing prolifically, the founder of important arts journals. But when offered the opportunity to publish a book, he announced "I aspire only to silence." The over a thousand "faits-divers" were printed anonymously, but his wife and his mistress carefully clipped and saved them. Luc Sante has captured their dry brevity with wit in translation, but I often found myself wanting to see them in the original French (what would the French idiom be for "fished out of the [name your choice of river here]," anyway? Sante's introduction is useful for understanding some of the allusions and social background of these tiny, lurid glimpses into French society of 1906. Fun for francophiles - and illustrated by several of Felix Vallotton's appropriately black and menacing woodcuts. ( )
  JulieStielstra | Dec 28, 2021 |
The entries take on a certain sameness as the book progresses. They are, nonetheless, interesting and well-crafted. I was surprised at how frequently people were run over by trams, streetcars and early automobiles in 1906 France. ( )
  heggiep | Apr 13, 2021 |
Moving, funny, most modern.
  beanbrarian | Apr 19, 2019 |
I wish I could write sentences like this. He makes it seem so easy, boiling it all down to the essentials. ( )
  helynrob | Aug 13, 2013 |
A collection of short little articles chronicling the absurd and comic and tragic events of 1904 France. The brevity and soul of a Maupassant, the journalist realism of Zola, in the length of a Tweet. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Félix Fénéonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sante, LucTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vallotton, FélixIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wald Lasowski, PatrickEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wald Lasowski, RomanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A NEW YORK REVIEW BOOKS ORIGINAL Novels in Three Lines collects more than a thousand items that appeared anonymously in the French newspaper Le Matin in 1906--true stories of murder, mayhem, and everyday life presented with a ruthless economy that provokes laughter even as it shocks. This extraordinary trove, undiscovered until the 1940s and here translated for the first time into English, is the work of the mysterious Félix Fénéon. Dandy, anarchist, and critic of genius, the discoverer of Georges Seurat and the first French publisher of James Joyce, Fénéon carefully maintained his own anonymity, toiling for years as an obscure clerk in the French War Department. Novels in Three Lines is his secret chef-d'oeuvre, a work of strange and singular art that brings back the long-ago year of 1906 with the haunting immediacy of a photograph while looking forward to such disparate works as Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project and the Death and Disaster series of Andy Warhol.

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