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The Penguin Book of Oulipo Reviews

The Penguin Book of Oulipo by Philip Terry

The Penguin Book of Oulipo

Queneau, Perec, Calvino and the Adventure of Form

Philip Terry

Score pending

1 review

Imprint: Penguin Classics
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publication date: 31 Oct 2019
ISBN: 9780241378427

Brought together for the first time, here are 100 pieces of 'Oulipo' writing, celebrating the literary group who revelled in maths problems, puzzles, trickery, wordplay and conundrums. Featuring writers including Georges Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, it includes poems, short stories, word games and even recipes. Alongside these famous Oulipians, are 'anticipatory' wordsmiths who crafted language with unusual constraints and literary tricks, from Jonathan Swift to Lewis Carroll. Philip Terry's playful selection will appeal to lovers of word games, puzzles and literary delights.

4 stars out of 5
Tim Smith-Laing
11 Nov 2019

"Philip Terry – himself a fine formalist poet and a distinguished translator of Oulipo – has put together as good a tasting menu as any"

Unfortunately, though, The Penguin Book of Oulipo is a frustrating business. There is no problem with the selections themselves: Philip Terry – himself a fine formalist poet and a distinguished translator of Oulipo – has put together as good a tasting menu as any. The 100 examples of Oulipian and relatedly formalist work here, including precedents, descendants, and a scattering of graphic pieces, maintain an almost uniform virtuosic ingenuity, and reward reading, even en masse.

In other senses, however, the editing feels lazy. Terry’s introduction (arranged alphabetically, of course) does almost everything except introduce Oulipo, while the entries (undated, and arranged according to a logic I have yet to discern) are annotated with Antarctic sparseness, and their formal constraints are noted only in an index. It made it all seem less an adventure than an obstacle course – and that, more than anything else, seems against the spirit of the Oulipo themselves.

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