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Exercises in Style (1947)

by Raymond Queneau

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,587525,756 (3.9)130
On a crowded bus at midday, the narrator observes one man accusing another of jostling him deliberately. When a seat is vacated, the first man takes it. Later, in another part of town, the man is spotted again, while being advised by a friend to have another button sewn onto his overcoat. Exercises in Style retells this apparently unremarkable tale ninety-nine times, employing a variety of styles, ranging from sonnet to cockney to mathematical formula. Too funny to be merely a pedantic thesis, this virtuoso set of themes and variations is a linguistic rustremover, a guide to literary forms and a demonstration of imagery and inventiveness.… (more)
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» See also 130 mentions

English (39)  French (6)  Italian (3)  Dutch (2)  Swedish (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (52)
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
This is an interesting study in voice. If you're struggling to understand the impact voice can have on a story, or if you want some assistance giving your narrator a different flavor, this book has a variety of useful examples. ( )
  beckyrenner | Aug 3, 2023 |
Divertentissimo, lo rileggo spesso come veloce lettura nel mezzo di opere più ostiche. ( )
  AsdMinghe | Jun 4, 2023 |
Eine Variante besser als die andere! ( )
  iffland | Mar 19, 2022 |
An amazing concept, but the execution didn't really work for me. Can be a bit too esoteric at times, but at other times it's hilarious and human. There seems to be a lot of wordplay going on, so a lot was probably lost in translation.

Time to learn French I guess. ( )
  yuef3i | Sep 19, 2021 |
Some books are clever in theory but dull in execution, whether due to the abstruseness of the underlying ideas or some incapacity of the writer. Exercises In Style is not one of those; even in translation (performed ably by Barbara Wright), it's obvious that this is one of those books that came out just as the author intended. While the underlying conceit may seem a bit lame, the underlying product is quite funny and enjoyable.

The central conceit is that Queneau takes a boring, everyday scene - the unnamed narrator watches two other men jostle for space on a bus, and then later sees one of them again being given fashion advice - and describes it in 99 different ways. Each form can be something as simple as changing the verb tenses to set the scene in the past, more complex such as various poetic styles, or just funny as in Cockney accents or pig Latin. Each different style emphasizes either a different facet of the encounter or a different way of perceiving the action, bringing to mind McLuhan's famous "the medium is the message" dictum. Sometimes the particular style will be almost unintelligible (I'm thinking of ones like the arrangements of permutations of certain numbers of letters), but since every detail of the scene becomes intimately familiar very quickly, the nuances of each particular descriptive technique take center stage. This is a book truly immune to spoilers, but enriched by repetition.

In terms of novelty, it reminds me of Pynchon's later "You never did the Kenosha Kid" scene in Gravity's Rainbow, though apparently it actually has more in common with chapter 33 of Erasmus' De Copia, where Erasmus comes up with 195 different ways to write the sentence "Your letter pleased me greatly" as part of a demonstration of technique. Regardless of provenance or influence or originality, my main takeaway is that this is a really creative way to emphasize the arbitrariness of presentation - there are an almost infinite number of ways to tell a story, and Queneau is showing so many to demonstrate that true artistry lies in selecting the right one (perhaps Flaubert's line about "le mot juste" should be amended to "le style juste" in this case). Most of these styles are obviously unsuitable for a "normal" novel, yet the concept of an entire novel being told in the form of a cross-examination, for example, seems like it could stimulate the right sort of author looking for inspiration.

There is no "point" to the book - I'm not sure I'd call it a novel - beyond its display of rhetorical technique, but even this formal exercise is engaging over its course, and even if some of the styles don't quite translate (Wright quite reasonably chooses analogous English modes in some instances, which of course provokes further thoughts on the question of limits of style beyond language), the book shows that a clever writer can make even the simplest idea and the simplest story entertaining. ( )
2 vote aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (25 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Raymond Queneauprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bartezzaghi, StefanoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dresmé, NicoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eco, UmbertoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harig, LudwigÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Helmlé, EugenÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kis, D.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kousbroek, RudyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ouředník, PatrikTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wright, BarbaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dans l'S, une heure d'affluence.
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On a crowded bus at midday, the narrator observes one man accusing another of jostling him deliberately. When a seat is vacated, the first man takes it. Later, in another part of town, the man is spotted again, while being advised by a friend to have another button sewn onto his overcoat. Exercises in Style retells this apparently unremarkable tale ninety-nine times, employing a variety of styles, ranging from sonnet to cockney to mathematical formula. Too funny to be merely a pedantic thesis, this virtuoso set of themes and variations is a linguistic rustremover, a guide to literary forms and a demonstration of imagery and inventiveness.

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Haiku summary
Quatre-vingts dix-neuf fois
(les Belges diraient "nonante-neuf")
Une histoire de bus.
(thorold)

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