The Great Fire of Londonby Jacques Roubaud
Part novel and part autobiography, The Great Fire of London is one of the great literary undertakings of the last fifty years. At various times exasperating, daunting, moving, dazzling, and challenging, it has its origins in Jacques Roubaud's attempt to come to terms with the death of his young wife Alix, whose presence both haunts and gives meaning to every page. Having failed to write his intended novel ("The Great Fire of London"), instead he creates a book that is about that failure, but in the process opens up the world of the creative process, which is at once an attempt to bring order to his ravaged personal life and to construct an intricate literary project that functions according to strict rules, one of them being the palindrome. But rather than a confessional novel about himself and his wife, Roubaud follows in the tradition of the troubadours, where the objects of grief and love are identified obliquely and through literary artifice. At all times, Alix and his anguished loss of her are paramount, but usually couched or disguised by the writer's obsessive need to filter that anguish through reflections of the art of writing.
The Great Fire of London consists of a main text ("story") and two sets of digressions ("interpolations" and "bifurcations"). Roubaud's novel stands as a lyrical counterpart of those great postmodern masterpieces by fellow Oulipians Georges Perec ("Life A User's Manual") and Italo Calvino ("If on a winter's night a traveler"). It is destined to take its place as one of the key enterprises of the last half century.
"Roubaud's book is remarkable. . . . The Great Fire of London is an entirely sympathetic book to read, but in its careful organization it is also a heartening one, as showing the power of artifice to manage even the keenest of distress." (John Sturrock, Times Literary Supplement 5-12-89)
"There is a mouth-watering description of the ideal croissant; a winsome self-portrait of the artist as an inveterate walker, swimmer, counter and reader; a paen to English women novelists; an evocation of London as a world of libraries and bookstores; bits of unexpected wisdom . . . interesting information about medieval poetry; and a heart-breaking evocation of the deepest sorrow, made all the more powerful because Roubaud refuses to speak directly of Alix's death." (Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World 8-25-91)
"Roubaud writes lucidly and often entertainingly about whatever interests him, and the thoroughness of his scholarship is evident. Students of avant-garde prose will find The Great Fire fascinating, but those who don't care about schools of writing and just want to enjoy heartfelt, intelligent literature leavened with humor will be pleased with it as well." (San Diego Tribune 12-20-91)
"Engaging, challenging, and a pleasure to read." (American Book Review Feb-March 92)
" The dream origins of the title, the emotioanl and intellectual states that accompanied the writing, the relationship that the narrator sees between writing and imagination, memory, and perspective all form part of the fabric of [The Great Fire of London]." (World Literature Today Spring 90)
- Dalkey Archive Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- American ed.
- Product dimensions:
- 6.45(w) x 9.36(h) x 1.21(d)
Meet the Author
Jacques Roubaud, born in 1932, has been a professor of mathematics at the University of Paris X Nanterre. He is one of the most accomplished members of the Oulipo, the workshop for experimental literature founded by Raymond Queneau and Francois Le Lionnais. He is the author of numerous books of prose, theatre and poetry.
In addition to several of Jacques Roubaud s books, Dominic Di Bernardi has translated works by Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Muriel Cerf, Claude Ollier, and Patrick Grainville, among others.
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