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the Complete Review
the complete review - nouvelles

Novels in Three Lines

Félix Fénéon

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To purchase Novels in Three Lines

Title: Novels in Three Lines
Author: Félix Fénéon
Genre: sui generis
Written: (1906) (Eng. 2007)
Length: 194 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Novels in Three Lines - US
Novels in Three Lines - UK
Novels in Three Lines - Canada
Eintausendeinhundertelf wahre Geschichten - Deutschland
  • French title: Nouvelles en trois lignes
  • Originally published in Le Matin
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Luc Sante

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Our Assessment:

(-) : oddly fascinating

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 9-11/2007 Alberto Mobilio
London Rev. of Books . 4/10/2007 Julian Barnes
The NY Sun . 19/9/2007 Eric Ormsby
The NY Times Book Rev. . 2/9/2007 Marilyn Johnson

  From the Reviews:
  • "For his microtales, Fénéon supplies --in an elliptical prose that anticipates noirish deadpan -- the often comic, sometimes riddling, but always piercing particulars: the Audouys’ overkill, the potter’s strewn flowers, the violent spasm that confirms the Englishman’s fear. These epigrammatic plots invite being read aloud, as well as other diversions." - Alberto Mobilio, Bookforum

  • "The Nouvelles en trois lignes, here translated into English for the first time, is not, in any normal sense, a book, if that word implies authorial intent. (...) The nouvelles were the journalistic equivalent of cocktail olives, and Fénéon devised a new piquant stuffing. Either way, Luc Sante has been bravely undeterred by Robert Herbert’s view that ‘Translating Fénéon would be tantamount to rendering a Sung landscape in department-store plastic.’ He has well conveyed the taut, sprung wryness of the original French." - Julian Barnes, London Review of Books

  • "The genre, which Fénéon perfected, allowed him to reconcile his unruly anarchic principles with meticulous stylistic rigor. Random facts, often involving sensational crimes or mishaps, could be chiselled into aphoristic bulletins. (...) Ultimately, Fénéon's reports resemble old snapshots more than novels." - Eric Ormsby, The New York Sun

  • "The wry, zinging voice of one Félix Fénéon would leap out of any form, even news bulletins. (...) Layered, ironic, amused, Fénéon’s voice is unmistakable." - Marilyn Johnson, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Novels in Three Lines collects the vast majority -- 1066 out of 1220 -- of the three-lined 'nouvelles' (which, as Luc Sante points out in his Introduction, can mean either 'novellas' or 'news') that Félix Fénéon wrote as a sort of mix between filler and 'in brief' material for the French newspaper Le Matin in 1906. (For the English edition Sante notes: "154 have been omitted here because their significance has fallen into obscurity".)
       These are bits of news that, for whatever reason, were not reported as full-fledged stories -- but often seem pregnant with significance. Often summary reports of crimes, the events are commonplace enough, yet the pithy, understated expression is suggestive, making for an air of mystery.
       Much of this is, admittedly, relatively banal, but at three lines each (unaccountably printed in the NYRB Classics edition so that many of the entries fit on two lines ...) it is easy to rush through them. What does catch the eye is Fénéon's turns of phrase -- which Sante conveys reasonably well.
       A sample of the variety on offer shows some of Fénéon's interests, tricks, and approaches:

Heat-struck, Hélectre, a roofer in Rheims, who was working 60 feet from the ground, destroyed himself upon it.

Instead of 175,000 francs in the coffers deposited with the tax collector at Sousse, there was nothing.

Mme Ernestine Gapol, 49, dwelling in Vanves, on Avenue Gambetta, committed suicide: two bullets in the head.

Eager for plenary indulgences, burglars emptied a shop of religious articles during the pilgrimage at Clichy-sous-Bois.

Trains ran over, at Les Clayes and La Briche, Buzard and Avel; love had put the latter of the two, at least, on the tracks.

A fire at 162 Boulevard Voltaire. A fire captain was injured. Two brigadiers were hit on the head, one by a beam, the other by a fireman.
       Many of these pieces record crimes -- of passion, theft, or drunken excess. Suicide and accidents are also popular fodder, while there are also hints of other topical events: telephone cable theft was apparently a big problem at the time, and the role of religion in the classroom, too. But in such short pieces, readers get only a glimpse of the times.
       Novels in Three Lines is an amusing concept, and enjoyable enough to dip into, but it is ultimately little more than a curiosity, and there's not really enough to the vast majority of the pieces to mark them as anything out of the ordinary.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 April 2009

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Novels in Three Lines: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Frenchman Félix Fénéon lived 1861 to 1944.

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