June/July/Aug 2010

Illustrated Three-Line Novels: Félix Fénéon

David O'Neill


Félix Fénéon, whose Novels in Three Lines was collected and translated by Luc Sante in 2007, made trenchant literature out of the twelve hundred news blurbs he wrote anonymously in a seven-month stint for the newspaper Le Matin in 1906. Now, Joanna Neborsky pairs fever-dream-like collage with his early-twentieth-century Tweets in this illuminated volume, proving that tabloids can be timeless. Fénéon was an anarchist, suspected terrorist, aesthete, and dandy who worked the paper's night shift, sifting through stories and reports and penning notes on accidents, fads, and technological breakthroughs in a succinct and witty style. Neborsky illustrates twenty-eight of his lucid prose bursts, conveying Fénéon's amusement at the absurdity of humanity's doomed daily folly, as in the case of a man who fenced a lamppost and lost—"all he managed to do was cut the artery in his right wrist"—or of "a traveler a tad overweight" who toppled his carriage by hanging on to its door. Inspired by Belle Époque typography, fin-de-siècle postcards, and the personal photographs of Gide and Colette, Neborsky's art is of both Fénéon's era and our own, aptly depicting the Banquet Years in the Reality Hunger era of appropriation. In the illustration below, Fénéon pirouettes on the word illusions, while Neborsky presents a haughty "harlot"—hand on hip, head held high, she confines a bevy of men within her pipe; a confident enchanter, she stands undaunted by the cops.

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