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And then there was ‘Playtime’

Jonathan Coe: Vive Tati!, 9 December 1999

Jacques Tati 
by David Bellos.
Harvill, 382 pp., £25, October 1999, 1 86046 651 6
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... assassination. Every version of Tony Hancock’s life zooms in on his alcoholism and depression. David Bellos does not, in the case of Jacques Tati, have a ruthless control freak or incurable melancholic on his hands, although even his book contains one or two tales of debts unpaid, employees exploited and lapses into despair. (A very small price to pay ...

Feuds Corner

Thomas Jones: Ismail Kadare, 6 September 2007

Chronicle in Stone 
by Ismail Kadare, translated by Arshi Pipa.
Canongate, 301 pp., £7.99, May 2007, 978 1 84195 908 5
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Agamemnon’s Daughter: A Novella and Stories 
by Ismail Kadare, original translation by Tedi Papavrami and Jusuf Vrioni, translated from the French by David Bellos.
Canongate, 226 pp., £7.99, August 2007, 978 1 84195 978 8
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The Successor 
by Ismail Kadare, original translation by Tedi Papavrami, translated from the French by David Bellos.
Canongate, 207 pp., £6.99, January 2007, 978 1 84195 887 3
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The File on H 
by Ismail Kadare, original translation by Jusuf Vrioni, translated from the French by David Bellos.
Vintage, 169 pp., £7.99, August 2006, 0 09 949719 0
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... Kadare dropped a few passages and added some new ones in a French edition of 1997, however, and David Bellos has changed the English text accordingly, as well as making ‘stylistic amendments here and there where they seemed called for’. (Bellos’s judgment in matters of style is not unerring. In Spring ...

Tall Storeys

Patrick Parrinder, 10 December 1987

Life: A User’s Manual 
by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos.
Collins Harvill, 581 pp., £15, October 1987, 0 00 271463 9
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The New York Trilogy: City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room 
by Paul Auster.
Faber, 314 pp., £10.95, November 1987, 0 571 14925 1
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... Life: A User’s Manual is an exception, though it has clearly taxed the ingenuity of David Bellos. A chapter of humorous visiting-cards, for example, produces only one instantly cross-cultural item (‘Madeleine Proust: “Souvenirs” ’ – not one of Perec’s subtlest efforts). Luckily there are occasions when a bon mot in French can be ...


Tim Parks: Victor Hugo’s Ego, 4 May 2017

The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of ‘Les Misérables’ 
by David Bellos.
Particular, 307 pp., £20, January 2017, 978 1 84614 470 7
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... as well as sentences like these, cumulative and insistent, as his own so often were. The title of David Bellos’s book on Les Misérables – The Novel of the Century – immediately tells us we’re in the territory; Hugo is greater than his rivals; Bellos has fallen under the spell. ‘I was entranced,’ he tells ...

Rainy Days

Gabriele Annan, 18 September 1997

The File on H 
by Ismail Kadare, translated by David Bellos.
Harvill, 169 pp., £8.99, June 1997, 9781860462573
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... The only book about Albania I had read before this one was Edith Durham’s deadpan account of her travels there before the First World War. It is called In High Albania and describes how she had to become an honorary man in order to get around – not among the Muslims, as you might think, but among the Catholic tribes of the north, whose favourite Sunday pastime was shooting members of families with whom they were at blood feud ...


Mark Ford, 2 February 1989

W or the Memory of Childhood 
by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos.
Collins Harvill, 176 pp., £10.95, October 1988, 0 00 271116 8
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Life: A User’s Manual 
by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos.
Collins Harvill, 581 pp., £4.95, October 1988, 0 00 271999 1
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... rotating it you get an SS sign. Two X’s joined horizontally can be easily made into the Star of David. Bartlebooth’s defeat at the hands of the already dead Winckler is both poignant and uplifting; all the systems of life, from Nazism to the Olympics, must leak at the seams, and only through the encroachments of chaos does existence transcend the ...

Funny Old Fame

Patrick Parrinder, 10 January 1991

Things: A Story of the Sixties, 
by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos and Andrew Leak.
Collins Harvill, 221 pp., £12.50, July 1990, 0 00 271038 2
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Parcours Peree 
edited by Mireille Ribière.
Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 162 pp., frs 125, July 1990, 2 7297 0365 9
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by Philippe Sollers, translated by Barbara Bray.
Columbia, 559 pp., $24.95, December 1990, 0 231 06546 9
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... last years of Mrs Thatcher’s reign it was Perec, not Sollers, who – with the publication of David Bellos’s translation of Life: A User’s Manual – found a keen British audience. There were logics in these things, as we shall see. Perec’s reputation might easily have crossed the Channel two decades earlier. His first novel, Les Choses, was ...


Michael Wood: Émigré Words, 1 April 2021

Émigrés: French Words that Turned English 
by Richard Scholar.
Princeton, 253 pp., £25, September 2020, 978 0 691 19032 7
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... she called it. The English language isn’t keen on the ineffable – in his book on translation David Bellos memorably says that ‘everything is effable’ – but it does recognise mystery when it has to, and it once allowed us, Diski says, ‘a neat phrase’ for ‘the mist in our minds’: ‘I know not what.’ The phrase ‘works fine in ...

Au revoir et merci

Christopher Tayler: Romain Gary, 6 December 2018

The Roots of Heaven 
by Romain Gary, translated by Jonathan Griffin.
Godine, 434 pp., $18.95, November 2018, 978 1 56792 626 2
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Promise at Dawn 
by Romain Gary, translated by John Markham Beach.
Penguin, 314 pp., £9.99, September 2018, 978 0 241 34763 8
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... tasteless plutocrat at a villa he built in Mallorca, where according to his English biographer, David Bellos, in Romain Gary: A Tall Story (2010), ‘he mostly ignored the people he invited, prowled around looking glum and subjected everyone to the various strange diets he took up to keep himself in shape.’ By the 1970s he was unalterably fixed as a ...

Anticipatory Plagiarism

Paul Grimstad: Oulipo, 6 December 2012

Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature 
by Daniel Levin Becker.
Harvard, 338 pp., £19.95, May 2012, 978 0 674 06577 2
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... of influence on the mathematical side. Queneau’s ‘Les Fondements de la littérature d’après David Hilbert’ treats Hilbert’s claim that instead of points, lines and planes you might just as easily say ‘tables, chairs and beermugs’ as an invitation to make a further move to ‘words, sentences and paragraphs’. Given that aspects of the Hilbert ...

Charlot v. Hulot

David Trotter: Tativille, 2 July 2020

Play Time: Jacques Tati and Comedic Modernism 
by Malcolm Turvey.
Columbia, 304 pp., £25, December 2019, 978 0 231 19303 0
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The Definitive Jacques Tati 
edited by Alison Castle.
Taschen, 1136 pp., £185, June, 978 3 8365 7711 3
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... much zest into a feeble allegory. In his excellent critical biography of Tati, published in 1999, David Bellos points out that less than three years before he began shooting the film (in May 1947) the Gestapo still had an office on the main square of Sainte-Sévère. And now American movies and military policemen are the problem?Many of the best scenes ...


John Lanchester: A Month on the Sofa, 11 July 2002

... in on Ronaldo’s blonde girlfriend in the crowd. What we didn’t know, but is revealed in Alex Bellos’s terrific book about Brazilian football culture, Futebol (Bloomsbury, 256 pp., £9.99, 6 May, 0 74755 403 x), is that he went on to marry a different blonde, Milene Domingues, who had the distinction of being the Brazilian champion at keeping a ball ...

Maigret’s Room

John Lanchester: The Home Life of Inspector Maigret, 4 June 2020

... The Case of Peter the Lett. In 1963 it was newly translated as Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett. David Bellos’s recent translation is the first with the confidence to call the book in English what it is called in French: Pietr the Latvian. Similarly, the second Maigret, another of my favourites, Le Charretier de ‘la Providence’, also from ...

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