Exercises in Style

A classic of French modernism that portrays a Parisian scene in ninety-nine unique ways.

Country: France

While riding a busy bus at noon, Raymond Queneau witnesses a disagreement between two men, one accusing the other of purposely jostling him. When a seat becomes available, the accuser takes it. Later, Queneau spots the same man being told by a friend to fix a missing button on his coat.

“Exercises in Style,” a seminal work of the Oulipo literary group, recounts this ordinary occurrence in ninety-nine different ways, utilizing various styles such as the sonnet, alexandrine, onomatopoeia, and Cockney. One chapter, labeled “Abusive,” vehemently criticizes the events, while another, “Opera English,” elevates them to grandeur.

A true experimental masterpiece!

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