by Paul French
Beggar Press, 2011
784 pages / $19.95 Buy from Beggar Press
Rating: 0.0







Paul French’s Untitled (2011) is either his most brilliant or most obnoxious novel yet—probably, it seems, his most obnoxious. What’s brilliant about French’s novel is this: for Untitled French has invented, not just fictional characters (as you might get in a realist novel), not even just a fictional world (as you might get in a sci-fi novel), not even just a fictional universe (as you might get in a fantasy novel)—Untitled isn’t set in our universe, it isn’t even set in our dimension. For the novel French has invented fictional systems of mathematics, of physics; electromagnetism, nuclear forces, gravity, French has done away with them altogether. French’s characters aren’t made of cells, and within those cells atoms, and within those atoms protons and neutrons, and within those protons and neutrons quarks. French’s characters aren’t even length/width/height-type characters: whatever dimension Untitled is set in, it’s not the traditional dimension in which one would set a novel (the third).

In that sense Untitled may be the most fictional novel ever written: everything within the novel is fictional. French hasn’t relied upon even a single nonfictional fact to build his story. Capitalism doesn’t exist in Untitled, for example; economics doesn’t even exist; greed itself doesn’t exist. Untitled took French almost thirty years to write—his last book, Come Hither Ye Stockbrokers, he published in 1984—and it’s easy to see why. The novel French built in those years is, in a certain sense, a masterpiece.

What’s obnoxious about Untitled, however, is that it seems French felt the premise of the novel required him to write Untitled in a fictional language. The fictional language is named .: (the language itself is a dot-based language, like a visual Braille; “.:” translates to, in English, “Wary”). Unlike books like the Codex Seraphinianus and the Voynich manuscript, it is actually possible to read Untitled—but, as it turns out, that’s what’s so obnoxious. The first several hundred pages of Untitled are an English/.: textbook—French has made it possible for an English speaker to study and become fluent in .: before reading the novel itself. (Some of the language exercises French has invented are, admittedly, actually sort of fun.) .: takes the average student about seven months to learn, the textbook’s introduction tells (warns) readers, but even after those seven months, the next several hundred pages of Untitled are a kindergarten-level textbook, written in .:, that teaches readers about the physics within the novel and the place this novel is set. Untitled is, without question, the most laborious, exhausting, obnoxious novel ever written.

However, what’s also true is that—after one has read both of the introductory textbooks—the next (last) several hundred pages of the novel do make it all worthwhile.

(For those unwilling to become fluent in .:, Untitled does have, also, lots of shiny pictures.)


  1. deadgod

      “first several hundred pages” + “next several hundred pages” + “next (last) several hundred pages” = 784 pages.

      Is “0.0” as . . . impressionistic as “several”?

  2. Brooks Sterritt

      is a tomato a fruit?

  3. postitbreakup

      damn, read this whole review for a book that doesn’t exist. well you got me. i was really trying to figure out what kind of language .: might be like, too.

  4. deadgod

      Now you’re comparing apples and oranges.

  5. postitbreakup

      .: : .: :: .: : .:

  6. deadgod

      wait up

      that ^ isn’t what you’d had in that comment a few several bunches of minutes ago

  7. deadgod

      wait up

      that ^ isn’t what you’d had in that comment a few several bunches of minutes ago

  8. postitbreakup

      I know, right? You’d think they would have learned not to give postitbreakup an edit button at this point

  9. deadgod

      2011 – 1984 = “those 30 years”

      or, as I like to say in the dotmatrixcom click dialect, “several hundred decades”

  10. deadgod

      I can translate this:

      ‘wary something wary something else wary first something wary’

      possibly bilingually homophonous:  ‘where he’; ‘[be]ware eeee’ (a tao lin reference, in a certain very real sense); ‘wear E’

  11. postitbreakup

      so you’ve ordered it from Beggar Press?

  12. M. Kitchell

      I totally loved “come hither ye stockbrokers” and i’m totally excited to read this. In an interview with French in a early 80s issue of Sub/Stance, French mentions that he was working on a book that would teach humanity the way to the future if they were willing to abandon their myopic insistence on the geometric use of space– I guess this is it, and that’s awesome

  13. postitbreakup

      That’s the one where all the stockbrokers speak Oulipian, right?

  14. Blake Butler

      this actually really made me want to read this book

  15. Janice Lee

      Yea me too actually, really intrigued now.

  16. deadgod

      It’s been called Hypo[/]Stan[tsk] since the Rockefeller vice-presidency, dude.

  17. postitbreakup

      hey though, the “anonymous” thing (or Truett Dietz thing) is somewhat undercut by clicking on anonymous leading to the real name, was this accidental or by design?

  18. postitbreakup

      uh ok. well if you’re going to fix this one (without replying to me) might as well fix the other one i guess. you’re welcome dietz

  19. midgar

      . . .

  20. Blake Butler

      that is the name of the editor who posted the article, not necessarily the author.

  21. midgar

      . . . . .

  22. midgar

      . . . . . . .

  23. midgar

      the mcsweeneys review of this book was a lot more favorable


  24. B. Loory
  25. Corey Zeller

      are those not comparable?

  26. postitbreakup


  27. Ben Roylance

      wait where can I find this?

  28. deadgod

      now you’re comparing comparison and contrast

  29. Anonymous

      Mike, what issue of Sub/Stance is he interviewed in?

  30. Anonymous

      All I can say is that it’s a good thing this review is anonymous because otherwise Mr, French would hunt you down and force you to have a long and obnoxiously ambiguous conversation with him.

  31. Anonymous

      I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this review is a really clever fake.

  32. deadgod

      that is a cord of twigs aloft, an abbess of nunentity below

  33. Anonymous

      thank you deadgod, a little extra ornamentation is always welcome

  34. deadgod

      qed extra ornamentation

  35. deadgod

      qed extra ornamentation

  36. Corey Zeller

      You actually can’t buy it from Powells, I don’t know why “Anonymous” has the review linked to that Powells page but you can’t get it there. Beggar Press does have a catalog (a print catalog) that they’ll mail to you, though–they seem to be anti-internet, for whatever reason, and don’t even have a website, although I know another MFA who interned there last summer. Anyway if you mail Beggar Press, 601B Trinity Street, Austin, TX 78701, and ask for a catalog, some intern underling like my friend will mail one to you. They only publish really obscure and borderline unreadable novels, though.

  37. Corey Zeller

      Also, is your name Ben Roylance or Rylance? And if Rylance, are you related to David Rylance (below)? Or was the “o” not a typo? I don’t know why I’m asking this but I really have to know.

  38. Corey Zeller

      Why do you keep writing under my name?

  39. Corey Zeller

      really, what the fuck…why my name?

  40. Corey Zeller

      not me.

  41. Ken Baumann

      Damnit. Now someone write this, please.

  42. Corey Zeller

      Okay, sorry we share a name, Corey, but I’m allowed to be Corey Zeller too. Did you think you were the only “Corey Zeller” currently alive on this planet? No, sorry, there are actually a few more of us. Sorry to shatter your dreams about having a name monopoly. Sincerely, Corey Zeller

  43. M. Kitchell

      I don’t remember, I think I have it saved on my other hard-drive as a pdf, but it’s still packed/i don’t know when I’ll be able to get to it :(

  44. Ben Roylance

      Hahaha. No, not a typo. I am Ben Roylance. One day all will know this name. Nah. but hi. 

  45. Ben Roylance

      Oh, you are the man with a similar last name. 

  46. David Rylance

      I noticed this the other day. Strange, right? We probably have some common ancestry way back. I asked my great-great-grandfather and he shot up in his wheelchair and cursed, “A Roylance! Damn their hides! Another one!” Apparently, back in the 18thC, there was a dispute over an orchard on our Scottish estate when Lord Roy Rylance died, without properly splitting the estate in his will between his two sons. The sons, being intemperate sorts, wanted the whole estate each to themselves and thus, after an angry escalation, fell into a blood feud, dividing into the Roylances and the Rylances, with each line aiming to hunt down every last living relative of the other branch, such that the surviving remnant would finally be able to claim the orchard – which is now a bailed-out bank, capitalized on apple futures – for their clan alone. Last year, when the Swedish executor would not release the deed and said our job was not yet done, the Rylance Family Council convened and knew we had missed at least one, though we’d scoured the world. But now…now the final battle can begin!

  47. David Rylance

      Wait, Mike, so you’re saying this dude actually is for real? Because I did a database search on Sub/Stance and couldn’t find any reference to him at all. Are you sure you’re not mixing this up with someone else? I’m pretty certain this review is satire. Read metaphorically, it’s too perfect a piss-take of the formal difficulty and dreamy outrecuidance of experimental literature generally to actually have an object, however lovely the existence of this book would be.

  48. postitbreakup

      Paul French is real—he lives in the venn diagrams of our hearts.

  49. deadgod

      this paragraph is the answer key to a translation exercise from the second part of that stupid book isn’t it

  50. Ben Roylance

      I guess we can’t argue with fate; one day, we will do battle.  You’re entire tribe will fall at my feet. I have an O that you lack.

  51. Ben Roylance

      I guess we can’t argue with fate; one day, we will do battle.  You’re entire tribe will fall at my feet. I have an O that you lack.

  52. Corey Zeller

      The situation between me and that other Corey Zeller is actually fairly similar.

  53. Saff

      “One night Zeller said his name wasn’t Zeller, it was Sammer, and it therefore stood to reason that he need not appear before the alphabetic interrogators on their next visit. ‘My name is Leo Sammer and some of the things I’ve told you are true and some aren’t,’ said the fake Zeller. ‘Do you recognize my name?’ ” (Bolano, 2666)