Wednesday, May 26, 2004

'Fictitious' author publishes the first book without verbs
By Kim Willsher in Paris
(Filed: 09/05/2004)

First, there was the novel written without using the letter "e". Now a French author has produced what he claims is the first book with no verbs.

Perhaps inevitably, critics have commented unfavourably on the lack of action in Michel Thaler's work, The Train from Nowhere, which runs to 233 pages. Instead of action, lengthy passages are filled with florid adjectives in a series of vitriolic portraits of dislikeable passengers on a train.

In a typical piece of prose, Mr Thaler writes: ". . . Those women there, probably mothers, bearers of ideas far too voluminous for their brains of modest capacity."

A less-than-glowing review in the respected magazine Le Nouvel Observateur described his book as "disagreeable" and said its scathing descriptions of women travellers displayed "a rare misogyny".

Yet he is equally disparaging of male passengers. He describes one as a "large dwarf or small giant - a young buck with a gelled mop with ideas, at first glance, shorter than his hair, and not longer than the bristles on a toothbrush, perhaps shorter".

The author, a doctor of literature who admits that "Thaler" is a pseudonym, and who has not previously written books under the name, said it was liberating to write without verbs, which he describes as "invaders, dictators, and usurpers of our literature".

"My book is a revolution in the history of literature. It is the first book of its kind. It's daring, modern and is to literature what the great Dada and Surrealist movements were to art," said Mr Thaler, an eccentric who refuses to reveal his real name or age, beyond admitting to being in his sixties.

"The verb is like a weed in a field of flowers," he said. "You have to get rid of it to allow the flowers to grow and flourish.

"I am like a car driver who has smashed the windscreen so he cannot see into the future, smashed the rear-view mirror so he cannot see the past, and is travelling in the present."

Mr Thaler says that he hopes Le Train de Nulle Part, which costs €20 (£14) will be translated into English.

In France, with its long and distinguished literary heritage, the reading public is struggling to fathom whether the work is any more than an exercise in semantics and strangled grammar.

It remains to be seen whether Mr Thaler's book grows to be as admired as La Disparition (The Disappearance), which Georges Perec wrote in 1969 without using the letter "e". Mr Perec, who tried to expand literature by borrowing formal patterns from other disciplines such as mathematics and chess, followed it up with Les Revenantes (The Ghosts), in which the only vowel he used was "e".

Chrystel Manfredi-Matringe of Adcan, which published Le Train de Nulle Part, said: "Monsieur Thaler takes an immense pleasure in language and words, but he also likes being provocative. Some critics have said, unfairly, that he is a misogynist but it's not true. He is a very charming, courteous man who loves women.

"His book attacks both sexes. Each person in it, male or female, displays a type of modern behaviour which he finds shocking and abhors."

Telegraph | News | 'Fictitious' author publishes the first book without verbs

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