Thursday, 25 April 2013

Faits divers

I’ve been to-ing and fro-ing a lot this week (The Five Simple Machines ran out of stock at the warehouse; for the reprint, the printer had to order in more paper for the yellow endsheets and then got ill and then the first batch was printed with the frontispiece in black-and-white, not colour*) – mostly on the Tube, lugging a family-size suitcase with boxes of books from west to east London, and alternating my reading between the free newspapers that get left in Tube carriages and the above book.

Two short pieces from last Wednesday’s Metro:

A drink-driving nurse has been jailed for five years after she killed a teenage cyclist – and drove off with his bike stuck to the front of her car. The 67-year-old, of Knedlington, East Yorkshire, had downed wine and gin and tonic, Hull crown court heard on Monday.

Mystery surrounds the sudden appearance of 56 sheep in a village. The animals are being looked after by villagers in Chiddingly, East Sussex, after fears they were dumped.

And two from Novels in Three Lines:

Scheid, of Dunkirk, fired three times at his wife. Since he missed every shot, he decided to aim at his mother-in-law, and connected.

After finding a suspect device on his doorstep, Friquet, a printer in Aubusson, filed a complaint against persons unknown.

Félix Fénéon (1861–1944) was a French anarchist, art critic, War Office clerk and magazine editor (he was the first French publisher of James Joyce). His book – translated by Luc Sante, published by NYRB - includes more than a thousand items of the above type which he contributed anonymously to the newspaper Le Matin in 1906. The French call these things faits divers; ‘They cover,’ says Luc Sante in his introduction, ‘the same subjects as the rest of the paper – crime, politics, ceremony, catastophe – but their individual narratives are compressed into a single frame, like photographs.’ They are journalism; as written by Fénéon – a very conscious stylist, acutely aware of the shape of each sentence – they are also a form of modernist literature. (And very much the type of thing CB editions goes for: see Markson and Robinson.)

Roland Barthes wrote an essay on the form. Between 2011 and earlier this year, the novelist Teju Cole wrote around a thousand faits divers (re-christened ‘Small Fates’) based on material he found in newspapers in Lagos; he posted many of them on Twitter, and he writes about the form here.

* All sorted now. Please carry on buying the book. If you’d like to come to Daunt Books in Holland Park, London W11, on 9 May to hear Todd McEwen reading from the book, email me (

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