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Latest Review: "Sphinx" by Anne Garréta

The latest addition to our reviews section, is a piece by BTBA judge Monica Carter on Anne Garréta’s Sphinx, the first novel by a female Oulipian to appear in English translation.

This book just came out from Deep Vellum and has been getting a lot of good praise, in part because no female Oulipian has appeared in English, in part because of the constraint, in part because it’s a good story outside of the Oulipian constraints . . .

I’m sure most everyone reading this blog already knows Monica. She’s a long-time reviewer for Three Percent, has served on the Best Translated Book Award committee since its inception, has appeared on the Three Percent podcast, started the Salonica website, and is a writer in her own right.

Here’s a clip from her review:

In the past, most Oulipian works have dealt with self-imposed literary constraints such as lipograms or the strictly mathematically structured Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. Garréta has upped the proverbial literary stakes and not merely played with the textuality or form of the work, but she has taken gender out of the language and put the constraint only on the imaginative limits of the reader. Sphinx is innovative in the way it is written—without assigning gender to the narrator and the narrator’s love obsession, making it a cutting-edge work for queer and feminist theory and an avant-garde novel that is more effective with the Oulipian constraint than without. Considering the grammatical calisthenics performed by Emma Ramadan’s translation, these points wouldn’t have been evident as Daniel Levin Becker aptly states in his introduction (via clever footnote):

“If Garréta’s composition of Sphinx was a high-wire act, then Emma Ramadan’s task in carrying it over into a language with at least one crucially important constitutional difference, is, near as I can figure it, akin to one tightrope walker mimicking the high-wire act of a second walker on a steeply diverging tightrope, while also doing a handstand.”

Enjoy the whole thing here.

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