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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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... of Peter Sellers, for instance, proper celebration of comic genius goes hand in hand with character assassination. Every version of Tony Hancock’s life zooms in on his alcoholism and depression. DavidBellos 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 ...

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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... The new Canongate edition of Chronicle in Stone is largely based on Arshi Pipa’s 1987 translation. Kadare dropped a few passages and added some new ones in a French edition of 1997, however, and DavidBellos 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 ...

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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... to Z. (It opens with the words Abbesse! Aidez!) Not surprisingly, much of his work is regarded as untranslatable. Life: A User’s Manual is an exception, though it has clearly taxed the ingenuity of DavidBellos. 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 ...


Tim Parks: Victor Hugo’s Ego

3 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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... appetite, the audacity of his opportunism and the oceanic immensity of his self-regard prompt awe – as well as sentences like these, cumulative and insistent, as his own so often were. The title of DavidBellos’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 ...

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 ...

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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... of Catholic mystic. Tel Quel changed its name to L’ Infini. And, since fame is capricious, in the last years of Mrs Thatcher’s reign it was Perec, not Sollers, who – with the publication of DavidBellos’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 ...

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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... the manner of a prewar Polish dandy, kissing women’s hands, wearing make-up and so on, and played the tasteless plutocrat at a villa he built in Mallorca, where according to his English biographer, DavidBellos, 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 ...

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 Moby-Dick (a lipogrammatically altered Ishmael appears as Ishmail). There’s also a clear line 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 ...


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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... in an X the story of his childhood: by extending its branches you get a swastika, by unjoining and 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 ...


John Lanchester: A Month on the Sofa

11 July 2002
... interesting. 9 June. At the last World Cup the cameramen would often, when Brazil were playing, focus 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 ...

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