Saturday, 11 April 2009
France's James Joyce, said John Calder to me the other day on the phone. Mmm, I am not sure I like or agree with this label. Queneau is certainly one of the most interesting and extraordinary twentieth-century writers. What makes him so unique is the wide range of his experimental work.
His Exercises in Style – which we have just reissued in a new edition – has become one of the few established classics of post-war literature. "'A pointless anecdote told in 99 different ways, or a work of genius – in fact both," as Philip Pullman puts it. Funny, mad, esoteric yet accessible, it's a tour de force of linguistic invention and a tongue-in-cheek critique of experimentalism itself. In Italy it was translated by Umberto Eco – here by Barbara Wright, who worked closely with Queneau on the translation and was encouraged to add a few pieces written by herself in the same spirit as the original.
We are now also republishing The Flight of Icarus, another of Queneau's major works, where a nineteenth-century writer discovers to his dismay that Icarus, the hero of the novel he is working on, has disappeared. He thinks some other author may have stolen it, only to find out that Icarus has taken on a life of his own and gets around among the seedy underlife of Paris.
We are planning to publish most of the works included in the Pléiade edition, and hopefully find more and more readers in the English-speaking world.
Queneau was a poet, a novelist, a scholar, a mathematician and also a brilliant editor. He was employed from 1938 by Gallimard as a reader of English books, and famously turned down a translation of Beckett's Murphy. As a publisher, I wouldn't hold that against him – here's this publisher's opinion of Beckett's Murphy.