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Novels in Three Lines Paperback – Aug 21 2007

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (Aug. 21 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590172302
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590172308
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 249 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #102,525 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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.


"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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Bursey on March 13 2009
Format: Paperback
None of today's major papers would print the types of obituaries and other news items Feneon wrote in the early years of the 20th century. They are mordant, cynical, joyful over the most bizarre and violent mishaps, attitudes and deaths, and crafted with the precision of a poet.

This book contains roughly one thousand 'novels' or life stories (or death stories) that summarize in the fewest words possible what a person expired of, what a city council fought over (usually religious matters), how this or that soldier behaved, and details of suicide (disembowelled, drowned, hanged), murder (knifed, shot), accident (slipping into machinery, being run over by cars), and mutilation (a lot of acid gets thrown around). You may think none of this could be funny, but Feneon's compression of events and his tone combine to make this book a rich, if narrow, slice of human behaviour.

Quoting from it would be like eating peanuts - impossible to stop. If you read a handful of entries, then you'll know immediately if it's what you might like. Or, you could give it as a gift to that person who's hard to shop for. Highly recommended. Luc Sante's introduction is very well done, and provides all the context one needs.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 20 reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
if haikus were cold assessments of society, they'd be this awesome Oct. 16 2007
By J. Cole - Published on
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.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Many Woes In Terse Prose Sept. 21 2007
By Lauregon - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Madison Avenue Could Learn About IMPACT from Feneon March 22 2008
By David Wineberg - Published on
Format: Paperback
Digesting an entire story and reproducing it in three lines is an art form. To have had it your daily paper was a privilege denied to all of us. Feneon could make the most mundane news item into a fascinating gem. He could communicate angles with extraordinarily efficient use of words. He was the Al Hirschfeld of news. Like Hirschfeld, Feneon's news items are tinged with humor:

Brandy he thought. Actually it was carbolic acid.
Thus Philibert Faroux, of Noroy, Oise, outlived
his spree by a mere two hours.

If you read this book while imagining the nationwide roundup page in USA Today, you will mourn the death of creativity. Journalism today is so dry and careful, so politically correct, as to be completely disposable and avoidable. Try this item, one of series describing the ongoing battle to get crucifixes out of classrooms in 1906:

Two mayors in the Somme were determined
to restore to classroom walls the image
of divine torture. The prefect suspended
those mayors.

And let me leave you with one last gem that could also never appear in an American paper today:

The name of a man arrested in Blainville
as a spy: Tourdias. His age: 24. His
profession: traveling salesman of bandages
and medicine.

Truly a novel, an elevator pitch for a Hollywood thriller. Leaves you asking questions, like nothing in the papers today. And that's the whole point, isn't it? Leave them asking for more!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
An Amazing Book May 27 2008
By D. A. Ross - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Life was tough in 1906 France. Jan. 27 2008
By Raymond Melancon - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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