roland’s most unusual work

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Kate Briggs’s wonderful translation finally makes available in English a most unusual book by one of the most significant literary figures of the twentieth century. The Preparation of the Novel comprises the notes of the third and last lecture course Roland Barthes delivered at the Collège de France, cut short in 1980 by his untimely death. Although the three lecture series were posthumously published in French in the order they were given, Columbia University Press have brought out the final course before the first one (How To Live Together, their translation of the second appeared in 2005) – an indication of just how intriguing a book this is. The uncertainty begins with the title. Is The Preparation of the Novel merely a course/class/series of lecture notes about the preparation of the novel, or is it also part of that preparation? From the outset, both interpretations are carefully invited: although Barthes denies, contrary to rumours circulating at the time, that he is writing a novel (and states that, if he were, he would not propose a course on its preparation), at the same time he acknowledges the deeply personal nature of the course’s origin and stresses that the “fantasy” it mobilizes is his own “Fantasy-of-the-Novel”. The ambiguity this creates about the book’s genre never disappears, reinforced by the contradictory positions adopted at different moments.

more from Mairéad Hanrahan at the TLS here.

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