Exercises in Style 2nd Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0811207898
ISBN-10: 0811207897
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A twentysomething bus rider with a long, skinny neck and a goofy hat accuses another passenger of trampling his feet; he then grabs an empty seat. Later, in a park, a friend encourages the same man to reorganize the buttons on his overcoat. In Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style, this determinedly pointless scenario unfolds 99 times in twice as many pages. Originally published in 1947 (in French), these terse variations on a theme are a wry lesson in creativity. The story is told as an official letter, as a blurb for a novel, as a sonnet, and in "Opera English." It's told onomatopoetically, philosophically, telegraphically, and mathematically. The result, as translator Barbara Wright writes in her introduction, is "a profound exploration into the possibilities of language." I'd say it's a refresher course of sorts, but it's more like a graduate seminar. After all, how many of us are familiar with terms such as litote, alexandrine, apheresis, and epenthesis in the first place?


“ was a revolution, a book that proclaimed its powerful ideas simply by pursuing their iron logic.” — The Washington Post

“What makes the book compelling is seeing this same, banal tale told through a huge variety of literary styles, from science fiction to rhyme, haiku to official letter. The variety in its repetition becomes at first odd, then hilarious as more and more absurd forms are chosen.” — The Huffington Post

“This witty, bizarre read is perfect for dipping into, or reading from cover to cover, for anybody who loves storytelling.” — The Huffington Post

“It will remind you of just how weird and infinite human language is.” — Raphael Rubinstein (BOMBlog)

“ is an irresistibly simple and frequently hilarious demonstration of the potential of language.” — The Believer Logger

“It’s fair to say that  turns the current thinking about writing entirely, and brilliantly, on its head.” — Yuka Igarashi (The New Inquiry)

“It’s a testament to Queneau’s ability as a writer, and just as interestingly, it sort of blows apart the idea of how many ways a story can be told—and how style can be more important than content.” — Chad W. Post (Three Percent)

“Traverso provides a compelling history of the apple throughout civilization and a short overview on apple genetics before launching into a detailed primer of 56 different varieties. ...In sum total, this is a solid compendium that is as satisfying and reliable as its namesake fruit.” — Bookslut

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 204 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions; 2 edition (February 17, 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811207897
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811207898
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #66,837 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By T. Mueller on July 7, 1998
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Queneau was, among many other things, a brilliant gamester. In this book he takes the most banal of stories and tells it 99 times in 99 different styles. It is a weird book, whose charm grows as you continue. Once you get to the 5th or 6th version of this inane tale, you begin to laugh and gasp and don't stop until the end. Like all good jokes, it is more than a joke. If you delight in language, read this book. If you do not delight in launguage, this book will teach you to. I have read the original French version, and Barbara Wright has stayed true to it in this wonderful translation. Don't miss this gem!
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 31, 2000
Format: Paperback
In the 1930s, Raymond Queneau attended a performance of Bach's "The Art of Fugue." Queneau was struck by the fact that Bach's piece, though simple in theme, gave rise to an infinite number of musical variations. This perception became the basis for "Exercises in Style", a literary experiment which stunningly challenges the notion of realism.
Queneau was a polymath, with interests and accomplishments as a novelist, poet, linguist and mathematician. Briefly a member of Andre Breton's Surrealist group, Queneau subsequently joined the "College of Pataphysics" in 1950. Pataphysics was the science of imagainary solutions, a science which originated with the poet and playwrite Alfred Jarry. The Pataphysicians were a tongue-in-cheek group of French intellectuals who didn't take themselves too seriously. At the same time, Queneau was exploring the Pataphysical, however, he was also serving as Director of the prestigious "Encyclopedie de la Pleiade", thus combining the whimsical with the serious. A decade later, Queneau was a founder of "OuLiPo" (an acronym for "Ouvroir de Litterature Poetentielle" or "Workshop for Potential Literature"). In contrast to the Dadaist and Surrealist movements, which gave free reign to chance and the unmediated workings of the unconscious, OuLiPo emphasized the systematic and deliberate generation of texts.
"Exercises in Style" is based upon an uninteresting and simple story, a story without any plot, a story that in itself is pointless and boring. Queneau tells this story ninety-nine times, each time using a different variation in the telling.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By darragh o'donoghue on April 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
Queneau said he wanted to do for literature what Bach did for music in the Art of fugue. He also wanted to simultaneously clean up the French language, remove its archaic, stuffy conventions, while affirming its elasticity, its variety, its refusal to be contained in anything so deadening as an 'official' language.
Certainly, having read 99 variations on a simple story, all unique, all demonstrating language's protean invention, the traditional one-voice, one tone novel will seem unsatisfactory and lazy.
I know 'Exercises in style' does lots of interesting philosophical and scientific things that are more important than Derrida etc. etc. I like the way a mode of language, simply by functioning, can completely altar a story told in another mode. if you read a story with metaphors, say, you translate the metaphors to see what the writer is 'really' saying. Because you know the story in 'Exercises', you can read the metaphors literally, and another story emerges, hilariously and subversively different from the 'original'.
'Exercises' does this throughout, with slang, poetry, rhetoric, narrative, word games, different voices etc., showing how 99 scientific classifications actually function in declassifying and decentring.
Barbara Wright, along with Scott Moncrieff, was the great translator of the 20th century, and her transposing, rather than translating, of Queneau's work from the French language into an English primer is a miracle. It is a little known fact that 'Exercises' is a detective story, with the solution fittingly revealed in the 99th chapter.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By M. J. Smith VINE VOICE on May 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
First, I ask the previous reviewers who have commented about the translation difficulties to read the notes for the 1981 paperback edition. I believe that they accurately describe the translation process in a manner that adequately describes the parts that are translated by equivalent English wit and that which is translated in a more literal sense.
However, if you are reading for enjoyment, the translation questions become irrelevant - the book stands on its own in English without any reason that the reader needs to recognize that it is a translation. The book tells an extremely slim story in multiple styles e.g. rhyming slang, mathematical, abusive, medical, epenthesis, haiku, logical analysis, sonnet, tactile ... The book is enjoyable as a quick read - but even more enjoyable if read attentively i.e. noting the differences in what is observed, spoken, omitted in each variation ... the difference in artistic and experiental impact of the story enforced by the perspective of the variation etc.
That the book can sustain such a simple story is evidence of a master writer: "On a crowded bus at midday, Raymond Queneau observes one man accusing another of jostling him deliberatly. 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 sew another button on his overcoat."
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