cover image Novels in Three Lines

Novels in Three Lines

Felix Feneon, , trans. from the French and with an intro. by Luc Sante. . New York Review Books, $16.95 (171pp) ISBN 978-1-59017-230-8

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)