Julian Barnes writes:
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. In 1906, Fénéon worked for the newspaper Le Matin, and for some months was assigned to compose the faits divers column – known in hackdom as chiens écrasés (‘run-over dogs’). He had at his disposal the wire services, local and provincial newspapers, and communications from readers. He composed up to twenty of these three-line fillers in the course of his evening shift. They were printed – unsigned, of course – and read for a quick smile or breath-intake or head-shake, and then forgotten. They would not have been identifiable from the general mass of faits divers had not Fénéon’s mistress, Camille Plateel, dutifully cut out his contributions – all 1220 of them – and stuck them in an album (his wife apparently did the same). Jean Paulhan then discovered and published them. It is an interesting position, to be the literary executor of a writer who aspired only to silence and resolutely refused publication in his lifetime. Paulhan duly brought out this unintended, unauthored, unshaped, unofficial ‘book’, and Fénéon’s underground literary reputation started to go overground.
(LRB 4 October 2007)
These Nouvelles en trois lignes were first published anonymously in 1906, appearing in the French newspaper Le Matin. Their author was Félix Fénéon, dandy, anarchist, brilliant critic, discoverer of Georges Seurat and first publisher of James Joyce. In deadpan style, each three-line newsflash relays a true story of murder, madness, calamitous accident or suicide. Despite their unremittingly bleak subject matter, the Nouvelles are suffused with dark, wry humour as well as quiet outrage, effortlessly suggesting the full complexity of the human drama:
‘Delalande’s tender feelings for his maid were such that he killed his wife with a pitchfork. The Rennes assizes sentenced him to death.’
The New York Review of Books, Inc | Paperback
208 pp. |ISBN: