14 May 2011

Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, A Life on Paper, 2010

This first collection of twenty-two of Châteaureynaud’s short stories to appear in English is a very welcome addition to genre bookshelves. His stories may be bizarre and frequently disconcerting, but I’d still struggle to describe Châteaureynaud specifically as a genre writer, at least in the Anglo-Saxon sense of how we define that word: he specifically avoids invoking horror and fear in the reader, instead choosing a far more understated approach to getting across the essence of his surreal mysteries. He occasionally also employs science fictional tropes, although he never lapses into an over-reliance on them to purvey his sense of elusive, dreamy strangeness – he is far more subtle than that. I didn’t actually find the book’s description of Châteaureynaud as “France’s own Kurt Vonnegut” that helpful (apart from the obvious physical resemblance) as Châteaureynaud’s writing possesses an elegance that Vonnegut rarely achieved, but perhaps that’s partly down to the translations by Edward Gauvin, who frequently displays a knack for precision in finding that English mot juste wherever it’s needed – Châteaureynaud is actually more Kafkaesque in his leanings, perhaps with a dash of Calvino. Several stories stand out: ‘The Only Mortal’ is probably the liveliest (and funniest) story here, ‘Delaunay the Broker’ is masterful in the way it compounds its central mystery, but for sheer unique strangeness it’s hard to better the eponymous ‘A Life on Paper’ in this collection. If this ever gets a paperback edition – which it really deserves, and further collections would be very welcome too – then I expect it will sell very well, and Châteaureynaud deserves to become a much more familiar name to English language readers.  PY

  Edward Gauvin’s translation of A Life on Paper won the Long Form Category of the first Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Award in 2011.


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