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 ?

26 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Vishy
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 12:58:21

    This looks like a wonderful book, Stu! The main premise of the book is really interesting! It reminds me of Jasper Fforde’s ‘Thursday Next’ series. I thought I will do some research and discovered that Queneau’s book was published in 1973. He must have been a real pioneer to write about a premise like this at that time and it looks like Jasper Fforde might have been inspired by it. It is sad that translations of Queneau’s books were not more widely available internationally, when he was at his peak as a writer. I will add this to my ‘TBR’ list.


    • winstonsdad
      Oct 11, 2011 @ 13:10:22

      you know until you mention it I hadn’t thought of that yes I suppose it was maybe a idea behind the fforde books ,I think mnyrb publish a number of his books in translation vishy ,all the best stu


  2. parrish
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 13:41:49

    A great call on the fforde connection, as to Oulipo Yes have read a few, apart from Perec, my favourite is Christian Bok’s Eunoia, in which each chapter uses a different vowel & only that vowel in that chapter, It’s a funny clever mind-boggling kind of book.


  3. Vasilly
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 20:15:36

    This sounds like such an interesting book! Great review. I hope my library has this.


  4. Kinna
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 01:39:34

    I should investigate more Oulipo authors. Only familiar with Calvino but until you mentioned it, I was not aware that he was a member. Thanks for the review.


    • winstonsdad
      Oct 15, 2011 @ 13:05:00

      I think he is more A member by chance than anything his books in the oulipo style so think he joined ,all the best stu


      • parrish
        Oct 16, 2011 @ 13:11:42

        Calvino on moving to paris met with & associated with literary theorists Claude Levi-Strauss and Roland Barthes, and literary circles like Tel Quel and the Oulipo. Ti con Zero (T-Zero, 1969). In an article for the Tiems Literary Supplement, Calvino calls for “a literature which breathes philosophy and science but keeps its distance and dissolves, with a slight puff of air, not only theoretical abstractions but also the apparent concreteness of reality.” He translates Raymond Queneau’s Les fleurs bleus (The Blue Flowers). Queneau will have a strong influence on Calvino’s new literary creations. In Nuova corrente he publishes the essay “Appunti sulla narrativa come processo combinatorio.” In the same magazine he publishes pieces that later will comprise Ti con zero.

      • winstonsdad
        Oct 19, 2011 @ 10:49:10

        Thanks for that Gary ,all the best stu

  5. gina @letterandline
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 02:28:40

    So happy to see Queneau pop up in my reader! Working my way through Oulipo–I think I will try Exercises in Style before Icarus but I definitely want to read as much Queneau as possible. I think I prefer him to Perec but I’ll have to read Life a Users Manual before I make the final judgement.


    • winstonsdad
      Oct 15, 2011 @ 13:04:04

      I ve exerciese in style as well ,but want try a couple of the lesser known writers nexrt ,life a user manual is a wonderful book to read Gina ,all the best stui


  6. Richard
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 03:12:56

    This sounds awesome, Stu, especially since I’ve actually read very little Queneau to date, although it will require a mighty effort for any book to overtake Perec’s mindblowing Life A User’s Manual at the top of my personal OULIPO canon. Love the bit about the character sampling the pleasures of glamorously seedy Paris–what a lucky fellow! Have you read Miguel de Unamuno’s Mist by any chance? That has a pre-OULIPO spat between the author and the main character over whether or not Unamuno has a right to kill the main character off. Both funny and kind of touching at the same time.


    • winstonsdad
      Oct 15, 2011 @ 13:02:21

      I think life is the best I ve not read the Unamo got his three exemplary novels lined up to read some point this year ,and then I ll get that hr cropped up a lot in my spanish lit book as one to read ,all the best stu


  7. Sarah
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 14:13:06

    Thanks Stu, for a great review. Calvino and Perec are fast becoming favourites of mine, so I think this would definitely be up my street. Except for the script format. Did you find that OK to read? I worry that it would become a little trying.


  8. Bina
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 16:57:40

    Sounds very intriguing and I really need to learn more about the oulipo movement.


  9. Max Cairnduff
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 17:24:49

    Nice review Stu; I’ve not read any Oulipo books as far as I’m aware. This may well be my first. This or Perec’s Things (which may not strictly be Oulipo).


  10. Max Cairnduff
    Oct 19, 2011 @ 10:59:39

    I’m pretty ignorant in this area Stu, if there’s any of your past reviews you’d recommend I go back to I’d be happy to hear it.


    • winstonsdad
      Oct 19, 2011 @ 11:02:59

      before I blog I read coup0le harry mathews he is one that always get missed from list ,I reviewed perec life and calvino if on a winter night ,all the best stu


  11. Sarah
    Dec 21, 2011 @ 14:48:15

    Stu, you’re a life saver. I’m looking for a last minute Christmas present for a friend and this is perfect 🙂


  12. Trackback: The Flight of Icarus – Raymond Queneau « A Rat in the Book Pile
  13. Trackback: 2014 – Some Fanciful Reading Plans | Vishy's Blog
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October 2011


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