Synopses & Reviews
A NEW YORK REVIEW BOOKS ORIGINAL
Novels in Three Lines collects more than a thousand items that appeared anonymously in the French newspaper Le Matin in 1906—true stories of murder, mayhem, and everyday life presented with a ruthless economy that provokes laughter even as it shocks. This extraordinary trove, undiscovered until the 1940s and here translated for the first time into English, is the work of the mysterious Félix Fénéon. Dandy, anarchist, and critic of genius, the discoverer of Georges Seurat and the first French publisher of James Joyce, Fénéon carefully maintained his own anonymity, toiling for years as an obscure clerk in the French War Department. Novels in Three Lines is his secret chef-doeuvre, a work of strange and singular art that brings back the long-ago year of 1906 with the haunting immediacy of a photograph while looking forward to such disparate works as Walter Benjamins Arcades Project and the Death and Disaster series of Andy Warhol.
"'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 Fnon, 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, Fnon 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 Fnon notes: 'The fever, of military origin, that is raging in Rouillac, Charente, is getting worse and spreading. Preventative measures have been taken.' Illus.' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
(1861-1944) was a French anarchist, editor, and art critic in Paris during the late 1800's. Born in Turin, he moved to Paris at the age of 20 to work for the Ministry of Defense. He attended the Impressionist exhibition in 1886, later coining the term "Neo-Impressionism" to define the movement led by Georges Seurat. He was the first french publisher to publish James Joyce. In 1892, the French police searched his apartment, claiming him to be an active anarchist. That summer, along with other intellectuals and artists, Fénéon was placed on trial, a case which is now know as The Trial of the Thirty. Although the charges were dismissed, he was discharged from the Ministry of Defense. Famously painted by Paul Signac, the painting now hangs in New York's Museum of Modern Art.
Luc Sante teaches writing and the history of photography at Bard College. His books include Low Life, Evidence, and The Factory of Facts.