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This review is taken from PN Review 84, Volume 18 Number 4, March - April 1992.

THE CONTINUING ENIGMA OF RAYMOND ROUSSEL Raymond Roussel, Selections from Certain of his Books, Translated by John Ashbery, Harry Mathews, Martin Sorrell and Antony Melville (Atlas Press) £8.99

This anthology, the seventh from Atlas, and the second to deal exclusively with Raymond Roussel, is a cause for celebration among Rousselians everywhere: at last, almost sixty years after his death, most of his major works are available in English translation (although Trevor Winkfield's version of the posthumous [1935] essay How I Wrote Certain of My Books, published by Sun Books, is now sadly out of print). Roussel, a rich eccentric who was a contemporary of Proust, has in the past been treated as an 'experimental' writer, or at lea"st been regarded as holding some sort of position within the literary avant-garde of his time. This has often been attributed to the bizarre linguistic method which Roussel found necessary to use in writing his prose: 'I would choose two almost identical words … for example billard and pillard. Then, adding to them the same words taken in two different senses, I would obtain two almost identical phrases.' A story would then be constructed in the space between these two resulting phrases. Roussel himself, in his essay on the method, stressed its essentially poetic nature: ' … the process is in short related to rhyme. In both cases there is unforeseen creation due to phonic combinations', and this has been usefully commented on by John Ashbery, who incidentally did much to bring Roussel to an English-speaking audience through his research in Paris in the late 1950's: 'just as the mechanical task of finding a rhyme sometimes inspires a poet to ...

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