French Funeral

PARIS, January 16, 2004 – The scene: a hundred or so scholars, writers, and others in a packed amphitheater at the Sorbonne. The event: a funeral.

But not for a person. Instead, an
au revoir to a part of speech. The Verb.

The mastermind of the mock memorial service: Michael Dansel, freelance intellectual, 65-year-old author of books, such as “The Rat, Our Brother in Darkness,” as well as a dictionary of spelling errors and a guide to complaint letters.

The purpose behind his ceremony: publicity. For his latest work; for his bid for literary immortality; for his contribution to the French language – a 233 page novel without verbs.

“Le Train de Nulle Part,” or “The Train to Nowhere.” A torrent of adjectives, adverbs, interjections and funky nouns. Also heavy doses of commas, semicolons, colons – and dashes, too. The result, in the words of the publisher, the first-ever French novel without verbs.

As for the plot: descriptions of a train journey and the narrator’s encounters with passengers. A typical passage: “In that carriage, between the grumpy woman oozing vulgarity and the similarly asinine creature with her, the progenitor and her eczematous brat, the purple-faced fatso, the half-bald guy like a vegetarian may-bug, the verbose matinee idol and the crazy witch, no room for me.”

So, at the ceremony, as in the novel, gimmicks galore, Mourners, eulogies, a flowery wreath with a banner “to the defunct verb,” Even a reception at a nearby café, with wine, and a buffet of meats and cheeses, just like a traditional French funeral.

(A Wall Street Journal Article without verbs by
Cassell Bryan-Low and Anne-Michele Morice)