EXERCISES IN STYLE BY RAYMOND QUENEAU

Thoughtful

My reaction to books like Raymond Queneau’s Exercises In Style is comparable to my reaction when faced with certain works of conceptual, or modern, art, such as, for example, Martin Kippenberger’s Wittgenstein. What I mean by this is that the enjoyment I derive from them is superficial, is immediate but not long-lasting; in fact, I tend to find equal or greater enjoyment in the concepts or ideas being described to me as I do in experiencing them myself.

To my mind, the most basic pre-requisite for any good novel is that once you’ve picked it up it makes you want to continue reading it. However, Exercises in Style did quite the opposite: it implored me to put it down. The preface has it that ‘[The author’s] purpose in the Exercises is, I think, a profound exploration into the possibilities of language. It is an experiment in the philosophy of language.’ A profound exploration into the possibilities of language? Come on. It’s clever at best; a Nabokov wet-dream.

Professional journalism

Raymond Queneau’s critically acclaimed novel, Exercises in Style, is like Martin Kippenberger’s Wittgentstein dancing the mazurka with Vladimir Nabokov, while trapped in a lift.

Sarcastic

Oh it is really great. Absolutely thrilling too. I cannot think of a single book that has entertained me quite as much as Exercises in Style. Didn’t bore me at all, oh no.  Made me think of Kippenberger’s Wittgenstein, which is the highest compliment I can pay anything, because that shelving unit is mind-blowing. I mean, just…wow. I could stare at it for hours, while contemplating the meaning of the universe. That’s how profound a statement it is…a shelving unit, painted grey. Well, fuck me sideways. Nabokov would probably have got a huge kick out of it. I know he liked Exercises in Style. Vlad had impeccable taste. He hated Faulkner, for a start, who was obviously rubbish. Old Bill could only have dreamt of writing something with as much substance as Queneau’s novel. What is The Sound and The Fury? Complete pap, obviously. He should have written a book in 99 different styles, and then maybe he would have the same lofty reputation as the author of this masterpiece.

Auditory

Gay Erotica

I fondled the cover, pressing lightly with the tips of my fingers, before gently pulling the book apart until it opened wide. I entered it slowly, almost tentatively sliding inside, trying to control my breathing. As I found my rhythm, I worked my way in deeper and deeper. Metaphorical!, Raymond screamed. I quickened my pace, pushed on harder and harder. Free verse! Sweat appeared on my brow. It rolled down my face and dripped onto a page. Ah-ah-ah-asides! I was starting to think Raymond was enjoying this more than I was. I thought of Martin, that difficult German with whom I’d once had the briefest of flings.

Tweet

@RaymondQueneau Just finished your book #shit

Poetry

O Raymond, Raymond Queneau,
I read your little book, y’know.
I wish I hadn’t bothered though.
O Raymond, Raymond Queneau!

O Raymond, Raymond Queneau,
Should’ve learned my lesson long ago,
For I’ve never been a fan of Oulipo.
O Raymond, Raymond Queneau!

Telegraphic

RAYMOND QUENEAU STOP

Horror

I was once lost in the dark, foreboding corridors of a German art gallery. My heart beating with fear, I turned a corner and there saw, not a genuine work of art, but a shelving unit…painted fog-grey. O Martin Kippenberger! What monstrous urge compelled you to create such a thing? What madness? I stumbled before the great grey beast, which loomed over me like a nightmare…and then I ran, sure that it was chasing me, and ever gaining ground.

As the years passed I put my experience in the German art gallery down to an overactive imagination. Until the night I opened Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style. There is was again! The grey shelving unit. O of course it wasn’t actually there on the page, but it was still there, don’t you see? The shelving unit leapt from the book and bore down on me, like an ugly old house, in which something evil lurks, something horribly reminiscent of…boredom. I tried to clap it shut, but my hands would not move; there was a resistance coming from the book itself. Suddenly a voice rang out in my room: You must finish it! It is a profound exploration into the possibilities of language. It is an experiment in the philosophy of language!

Pictorial

csm_Wittgenstein_e8802d3657

Formal

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to you regarding my recent experience of reading Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau. I had been promised ‘a profound exploration into the possibilities of language,’ which this product entirely failed to deliver. Therefore, I consider it my duty to compose a review of the book in question in order to highlight its many faults. In doing so I hope to warn other potential readers against making the kind of rash and ill-informed purchase that I did myself.

Yours sincerely,

[P]

Crude

This book is fucking shit.

Crude [third person]

He thought the book was fucking shit.

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2 comments

  1. This was very much my reaction too; but then I read Queneau’s The Bark Tree which I found completely wonderful, and went out and bought a whole load more Queneau. Oulipo is a very mixed world, and its writers themselves are very mixed.

    1. It is the game playing that I find tedious; and, generally speaking, I dislike books about writing. I am not a fan of If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller either. So I probably shouldn’t have picked this up. I am aware that Queneau wrote more conventional books though. I will have a look out for The Bark Tree.

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