“The Thief of Talant” by Pierre Reverdy [Why This Book Should Win]
Between the announcement of the Best Translated Book Award longlists and the unveiling of the finalists, we will be covering all thirty-five titles in the Why This Book Should Win series. Enjoy learning about all the various titles selected by the fourteen fiction and poetry judges, and I hope you find a few to purchase and read!
The entry below is by Jarrod Annis of Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY.
The Thief of Talant by Pierre Reverdy, translated from the French by Ian Seed (France, Wakefield Press)
Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 77%
Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 27%
I will read any book that was written at the behest of a dare from Max Jacob, especially a novel-in-verse by a prose poetry heavyweight like Pierre Reverdy. He seems as mysterious as his poetry. He is there, and he’s not. Reverdy’s is a poetry of absence; someone once said of (I think it was Kenneth Koch), that he wrote about small things, like the shadow of a pin on an apple. That’s true as ever in the novel-length poem that comprises The Thief of Talant, which follows the Thief from his arrival in Paris though his navigation of the avant-garde art circles he frequents, as well as the city itself.
For those accustomed to the heady, image-laden paragraphs of Reverdy’s prose poems, The Thief of Talant comes as something of a surprise. Reverdy was a master of playing with space and language, simultaneously using one to alter the other—a quality that has garnered him a reputation for being notoriously difficult to translate. That capability is on full display throughout The Thief of Talant in Ian Seed’s taut and lonely translation. Reverdy’s language is both dense and minimal, to the point to being abstruse, drifting in aphoristic clusters across the pages, pulling the reader through the space like the titular Thief wandering the endless back streets of Cubist Paris.
The Thief of Talant is a deeply intriguing work bringing to mind a time when the possibilities for merging narrative and verse were open and endless, with Pierre Reverdy pointing steadily ahead.