XFX: Eric Chevillard

A few years back I read a little novel by Eric Chevillard called On the Ceiling (Au plafond) which told the story of a young couple living with the parents who see that there is no longer any room for all the people in the home so the young couple moves to the top side of the house and takes up residence on the ceiling. I remember being fascinated by the imagination of this new French writer and immediately ordered many of his other titles; unfortunately, Au plafond was the only one at that time which was translated into English.

The current list of Chevillard’s work is still mainly in French but a few titles have been translated. Here is the list from Wikipedia:

  • Mourir m’enrhume, Minuit, 1987.
  • Le démarcheur, Minuit, 1989.
  • Palafox, Minuit, 1990. (Palafox)
  • Le caoutchouc décidément, Minuit, 1992.
  • La nébuleuse du crabe, Minuit, 1993. (Fénéon Prize) (The Crab Nebula)
  • Préhistoire, Minuit, 1994.
  • Un fantôme, Minuit, 1995.
  • Au plafond, Minuit, 1997. (On the Ceiling)
  • L’œuvre posthume de Thomas Pilaster, Minuit, 1999.
  • Les absences du capitaine Cook, Minuit, 2001.
  • Du hérisson, Minuit, 2002.
  • Le vaillant petit tailleur, Minuit, 2004. (Wepler Prize)
  • Scalps, Fata Morgana, 2005.
  • Oreille rouge, Minuit, 2005.
  • D’attaque, Argol, 2006.
  • Démolir Nisard, Minuit, 2006. (Roger Caillois Prize)
  • Commentaire autorisé sur l’état de squelette, Fata Morgana, 2007.
  • Sans l’orang-outan, Minuit, 2007.
  • Dans la zone d’activité, graphisme par Fanette Mellier, Dissonances, 2007.
  • L’autofictif, L’Arbre Vengeur, 2009.
  • En territoire Cheyenne, Fata Morgana, illustrations de Philippe Favier, mai 2009.

The back cover of the English edition of Palafox reads:

“Imagine … a comedy of manners, a supernatural tale, a sly commentary on science’s quest for knowledge, a sad story about a creature that seems to possess characteristics common to marsupials, reptiles, and amphibians, not to mention insects and humans, and you have an inkling of what Eric Chevillard has done in his dark, disturbing, delightful, downright funny story of Palafox. Now mix into this brew some of Ronald Firbank’s verbal fireworks, Italo Calvino’l imaginative flights of exquisite writing, and Raymond Roussel’s weird deadpan logic, and you get a little more of an inkling. And, if this is not enough to whet your appetite, imagine something new born under the sun. The sun, however, is shining on a dining table surrounded by people who you might, on a good day, call eccentrics.”

The Experimental Fiction group will read Palafox in the next few months and I, happily, have the novel in both French and English. I intend to read it in French but I find it helpful and very much a time-saver to have an English translation near-bye to augment my vocabulary or to suggest variations of nuance in the prose.

As I speak to more and more people around the world, I am always fascinated how common it is to have non-English speaking people reading English (even American) literature in the original language. I read in French, haltingly, but I know the value of literature in the original language (besides, my daughter insists that reading in translation is not valuable). I do know a few people who read in different languages even when that language is totally unnatural:  without ever studying the language in school. How many people read in the original language no matter how difficult it might be?

What are your thoughts on this?

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