Novels in Three Lines, by Félix Fénéon

3.5 stars3.5/5

A gift from my Uncle (thanks Uncle T!), Novels in Three Lines is the perfect book to keep on your bedside table to dip into. No vast swathes of convoluted prose here, only epic stories in miniature penned by a master of brevity.

New York Review Books, 2007 paperback edition, 208 pages - gift

The three-line “novels” contained in this book are snippets of news, known as “fait-divers” in French, which were published in the Paris daily newspaper Le Matin during the year 1906. The collection brings together 1,220 anecdotal scraps which tell of present-day events, dramatic crimes, tragedies, political stories and cover a whole world of perverse goings-on. They are almost haiku-like in the way that they sum-up so briefly, conveying events with pin-point accuracy, each with a sardonic edge.

Novels in Three Lines, is an interesting book to read in the context of the age of Twitter, which as well as being a communication device and a platform for people to broadcast themselves, has become a way of receiving news in the most immediate and abrupt way. In an era where people are overloaded with information, we often look for shorter sharper, quicker ways of absorbing it. Fénéon would have had a million followers on his Twitter account!

“Emilienne Moreau, of Plaine-Saint-Denis, had thrown herself in the drink. Then she leaped four floors. Still alive, but she’ll re-consider.”

Some of the snippets are simply FYIs:

“Some murdered women: Mme Gouriau, Mme Josserand, Mme Thiry, 24, 69, 72, of Coatméal, Saint-Maurice Sorbey (Finistere, Loire, Meuse).”

Others give news of disgruntled workers and outbreaks of disease. There also accidental tragedies which are both ludicrous and pitiable such as the woman who accidentally stabbed herself while balancing on a swing with scissors in her hand. The stories together paint quite a grim portrait of early Twentieth Century France – who on earth said things were safer in the old days!?

Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon in 1890, by Paul Signac (1890) via giganticmag.wordpress.com

This book is a good little gift for someone who likes curiosities and it’s also a clever example of how it is possible to get a message across with just a sentence or two. This review is probably an illustration of how I have yet to learn the art of brevity!

Do you like your information distilled or in detail?

4 responses to “Novels in Three Lines, by Félix Fénéon

  1. This sounds like a good book to dip into whenever you have a bit of spare time. I think I’d probably end up wanting more information about each thing (such as why did the woman carry scissors onto a swing??) but I like snippets too.

  2. Seems funny, though I fear I will be mad at the book sometimes, because I want to know more about a certain story

  3. I’ve been tempted by this one… and now I’m more tempted! It would have to be a dip-into book, wouldn’t it? It might drive me a little crazy if I tried to read it straight through…

  4. This sounds like a very cool and quirky little read! Thanks for bringing it to my attention! 🙂

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