The flight of Icarus by Raymond Queneau

The flight of Icarus by Raymond Queneau

French Fiction (OULIPO movement )

Translator – Barbara Wright

I ve long been interested in the oulipo movement of which Queneau was the co-founder ,inventive and constrained fiction and poetry .Well the flight of Icarus is firmly in the inventive side of Oulipo .What is it about well we meet Hubert a writer in Paris in 1895 .He is working on a new novel .Well he comes on morning to discover that the main character in his book has disappeared searching through what he has written he has no luck no Icarus has flown the text so to speak . THe book then is told in two storylines well short scenes really 74 in all in 158 pages .the first follows Hubert trying to find Icarus ,first by talking to fellow writers to see if one of them has stolen Icarus then he hires a detective .the second story line follows Icarus as he has broken the constraint of his book discovering new pleasures in the seedy part of Paris .THE two storyline draw closer as we reach a wonderful climax .

Hubert – he doesn’t seem to be here

Surget – He ? Who’s he ?

Hubert – You remember the other day .I read you the first few pages of my new book ….

Surget – No reason to come and turn mine upside down !

Hubert – You were good enough to think highly of my chief character though I had barely begun to outline him .You complimented me on him

Surget – perhaps

Hubert – He was called Icarus

Surget – I remember

Hubert – Well – he’s disappeared !

Surget – He can’t have ! What a joke

Hubert searches his rooms for the missing Icarus to see if he has jumped book .

As you can see the novel is in script form a novel Oulipo idea I would think .So Icarus has done what the call in tv terms broken the fourth wall and that is escape the confines of his book .Hed goes round tasting the pleasures of Paris at that time absinthe and such very much in the style of the classic Belle Époque fiction of the time from the likes of Proust and Musil Icarus is a man discovering the world for the first time .Hubert himself is an homage to Humbert Humbert the main character of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita  like Hubert a writer in paris .Icarus is like his greek namesake a man who gets unstuck once he tries to escape his confines this being a book he has been written in . The book is typical of th other Oulipo works I ve read by Calvino ,Perec and Mathews .It works well where as a couple of the others I have read in the past are  oft style over content this one has a workable narrative and is very funny in parts .

All – he ‘s falling ! he’s falling to his death !

Icarus falls

But what happens well you’ll have to find out .The translation was done by Barbara Wright translated most of his worked and lived in Paris and was a specialist in translating surreal and existentialist writing .

Have you read any Oulipo movement books ?

Have you read Queneau ?

October 2011


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