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Novels in Three Lines (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – August 21, 2007

4.8 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Prolific writer and cultural critic Sante (Low Life) has translated half a year's worth of concise news blurbs written in 1906 for a Paris newspaper by Fénéon, writer, anarchist and promoter of artists like Seurat and Bonnard. These nouvelles (literally novellas or news) attest to the ongoing despair of the human condition, giving readers a relentless compendium of murder, suicide, accidental death (beware of train tracks), infanticide, beatings, stabbings, depression and, in a particularly French twist, endless mention of strikes and scabs. According to Sante, Fénéon took an established form and made it his own through the precision and style of his writing; yet it's hard to define that style, because it seems so variable, often straightforward, at times cheekily irreverent, sometimes syntactically impossible to understand, although it's hard to know how much of that is the translation and how much the writer's native prose. That the news is still filled with stories like those related here attests to the constancy of human nature, in both private and public undertakings, as when Fénéon notes: The fever, of military origin, that is raging in Rouillac, Charente, is getting worse and spreading. Preventative measures have been taken. Illus. (Aug. 21)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"In these artfully concise summaries of news events, Feneon, an enigmatic French journalist and publisher, provides a glimpse of a belle epoque that belongs not to artists or intellectuals but to locksmiths, plumbers, seamstresses and the occasional sex offender." --Los Angeles Times

"In 1906, suspected terrorist, anarchist, and literary instigator Félix Fénéon wrote more than a thousand small bits for the Paris newspaper Le Matin. Each was a bizarre yet enigmatic, fragmentary, often scandalous, report." Steven Heller, imPrint 

 

"A Parisian anarchist, dandy and literary editor born in 1861, Feneon was at his most eloquent when saying as little as possible. Novels in Three Lines is a collection of what newspaper editors used to call squibs - very short news items, similar to the sentence fragments that populate modern cable news crawls. The book collects more than 1,000 news items (what the French call faits divers) printed in Le Matin in 1906, all anonymously written by Feneon. Century-old one-liners from French fishwrap might sound like a shaky premise for a book, but these true-life tales of murder, revenge, suicide, deceit and religious strife feature the fine carpentry of a literary stylist." --Toronto Star

 

“Veering from horrific to hilarious and offering an acute overview of life at the time, these ultra-condensed tales of politics and mayhem hover between poetry and prose and redefine nonfiction... it is a seminal modernist masterpiece of form and sensibility, and still provocative. Sante did a brilliant job of translating it into English.” –CHOICE

 

"[D]eliciously tart and brilliantly compacted micro-vignettes of daily life in all its ironies, passions and dark mysteries." --Sukhdev Sandhu

 

"These fillers, or fait divers,...recount all manner of assault, graft, accident, labor strife, and murder in spare, factually tidy detail...These epigrammatic plots invite being read aloud, as well as other diversions." --Bookforum

 

"Layered, ironic, amused, Feneon's voice is unmistakable..a little yo-yo of a narrative that gives pleasure no matter how many times it's flung. The construction, the comic timing, the sly understatement that demands instant rereading." --The New York Times

 

"Today's lurid tabloid journalism has nothing on Novel in Three Lines, originally published anonymously in the French daily Le Matin in 1906. The man behind them was one Felix Feneon, part-time anarchist, and they reveal a delight in the fateful cruelties of life: Random shootings, premeditated suicides, and awful robberies were his main fixations. It's no insult to our own taste for the sensational when we admit to finding Paris the city more fascinating than Paris the woman." --New York Magazine

 

"The Feneon , like a book of haikus entirely devoted to suicide, murder, fatal accidents, and incestuous sex, is a creepy introduction to the shadowed brain cavity of a Neo-Impressionist who certainly believed in 'propaganda by the deed' and may have plotted one or more anarchist assassinations." --Harper's Magazine

 

"Prolific writer and cultural critic Sante (Low Life) has translated half a year's worth of concise news blurbs written in 1906 for a Paris newspaper by Fénéon, writer, anarchist and promoter of artists like Seurat and Bonnard." —Publishers Weekly

 

“[T]he “Nouvelles en trois lignes”…were simply news items concerning accidents, quarrels, mayhem, fires and murders, reduced to minimal length and rendered tragic-comic or ludicrous by artful diction, euphemism, understatement and other devices. They have stylistic interest, contain political and social overtones, and convey a concept of the absurdity of life.” —French Review

 

“Fénéon is best known today for his early championing of such men as Arthur Rimbaud, Francis Poictevin, and Jules Laforgue; for the art criticism that helped establish Neo-Impressionism…; for his Nouvelles in trois lignes, the pithy and often startlingly phrased newspapers accounts of current events that have been cited as predecessors of ‘minimal’ story writing; and for the exhibitions and sales of contemporary paintings he organized at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery after 1906.” —American Historical Review

 

“As a regular journalist, Fénéon is best remembered for his devastatingly spare News stories in Three Lines for Le Matin–cruelly deadpan summaries of the minor dramas of the day.” —Burlington Magazine

 

“In his time, Félix Fénéon was one of the most influential critics of art and literature in fin-de-siecle Paris… He was, clearly, a man to whom history–cultural history–owes some recognition.” —The New York Times Book Review (James R. Mellow)

 

“Félix Fénéon, editor, critic and stylist extraordinaire...the most brilliant critic of the day.” —The New York Times (John Russell)

 

“[T]he era's most influential art critic” —The New Statesman

 

“The fastidious editor Félix Fénéon, who placed an incisive style in the service of avant-garde interests on every front, married rhetoric and action, art and politics. Closely associated with Symbolism, and with the Neo-Impressionism whose theoretical and formal basis he defined in 1886, Fénéon was probably the most important art critic of the late nineteenth century. While conscientiously clerking at the War Office, he used his discerning eye to appreciate literary and visual subversion…” —The New Republic

 

"[T]he greatest critic of his age" —William Everdell author of The First Moderns

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Main edition (August 21, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590172302
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590172308
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #412,663 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Cole on October 16, 2007
Format: Paperback
if you think people drowning, killing themselves, getting hit by cars, or living sad lives at the turn of the 20th century in france has the potential to be laugh-out-loud funny, then you'll maybe piss yourself when you read this book.

it's not so much the content as it is Fénéon's impeccable timing that makes this book work. he turns a phrase, this guy. it's all just news blurbs, like the local stories from the usa today, but there's nothing about the execution that's even remotely similar.

one example - "Scheid, of Dunkirk, fired three times at his wife. Since he missed every shot, he decided to aim at his mother-in-law, and connected."

there are also some touching items.
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It takes a great deal of skill and a passion for words to tell a story in 25 to 30 words, and Felix Feneon was up to the challenge. In more than 1,000 three-line fillers, Feneon details life in 1906 France for Le Matin. Although reading the entire collection can be repetitive, each individual entry is priceless. Some are morbid, some sad and some humorous but in all cases the writing is tight (no superfluous words). When Feneon turns 'Dead' or 'Love' into one-word sentences, no elaboration is needed. Beautiful.
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I'm ordering two more copies of this small book to send as gifts to friends who appreciate dark humor and irony. These tersely told tales are a delight and an inspiration. Readers may never again be able to read the newspaper without picking up imaginary scissors and a pen and paper.
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This book would be the height of flash fiction, save for the fact that it is comprised of 100-year-old news items. Dry, wry, and utterly brilliant. A translation of over 1000 of Feneon's spare 3-line news reports printed in Le Matin in 1906. Not for the optimistic or loquacious.
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Hilarious, at shocking. This person invented his own literally, true-crime, art-form. I wish to duplicate it, not an entire book like that but in some ways. An inspiring, funny, at shocking book. This is experimental literature as art. Genius. Should be better known.
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A great book, opening up an aspect of modern literature that needs to be much more fully explored and understood. In his celebration of the quotidian, Feneon made it clear that the real world offers all that is needed to refresh one's vision. We could not have had Rauschednberg without Feneon, though I've no idea if he ever read this brilliant, modest book. Great introductory essay by Luc Sante makes this an even more important book for anyone trying to understand why so much modern art feels the way it does.
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This book gave a real insight into all the bad things that were happening in France back in 1906. It was a list of all the three line items that the writer put into his newspaper to fill out the page. Some of them had some wry humor but most struck me with sadness because of the terrible crimes and accidents that occured. The brevity of the items intensified the emotion. I couldn't read too many pages at a time. This book is not for the squeamish. I recommend it because it gives a view of life back then.
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Hey, James. 10,000 thanks for turning me on to Novels in Three Lines. WHAT a great book. Talk about all that "soul of wit" stuff. Very humbling. 1,000 lessons in the potential in compression. A handbook for every modern poet--except the obsfucating gas bags, of course; gotta leave some space for them. And, what a relief, no ersatz haiku. These poems don't pretend to be anything. They are what they are. Droll, piercing, witty, hilarious, self-effacing (especially the three stories in three lines entries). Art and life in a blender, taken in teaspoon doses.
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