According to a Telegraph story by Kim Willsher, “a French author has produced what he claims is the first book with no verbs.”

Perhaps inevitably, critics have commented unfavourably on the lack of action in Michel Thaler’s work, The Train from Nowhere, which runs to 233 pages. Instead of action, lengthy passages are filled with florid adjectives in a series of vitriolic portraits of dislikeable passengers on a train…
The author, a doctor of literature who admits that “Thaler” is a pseudonym, and who has not previously written books under the name, said it was liberating to write without verbs, which he describes as “invaders, dictators, and usurpers of our literature”.

“My book is a revolution in the history of literature. It is the first book of its kind. It’s daring, modern and is to literature what the great Dada and Surrealist movements were to art,” said Mr Thaler, an eccentric who refuses to reveal his real name or age, beyond admitting to being in his sixties.
“The verb is like a weed in a field of flowers,” he said. “You have to get rid of it to allow the flowers to grow and flourish.
“I am like a car driver who has smashed the windscreen so he cannot see into the future, smashed the rear-view mirror so he cannot see the past, and is travelling in the present.”
Mr Thaler says that he hopes Le Train de Nulle Part, which costs ?20 (£14) will be translated into English.
In France, with its long and distinguished literary heritage, the reading public is struggling to fathom whether the work is any more than an exercise in semantics and strangled grammar.
It remains to be seen whether Mr Thaler’s book grows to be as admired as La Disparition (The Disappearance), which Georges Perec wrote in 1969 without using the letter “e”. Mr Perec, who tried to expand literature by borrowing formal patterns from other disciplines such as mathematics and chess, followed it up with Les Revenantes [sic—actually Les Revenentes, as a commenter pointed out] (The Ghosts), in which the only vowel he used was “e”.

I’m a Perec fan, but this doesn’t sound like my cup of tea. Very French, though… (Via The Discouraging Word.)
Addendum. Don’t miss Geoff Pullum’s verbless post at Language Log.


  1. I suppose it’s possible, but I hope he does a better job than this. I get tired reading just one page.

  2. confused says

    Doesn’t the word “revenante” have an “a”?

  3. Good catch — it’s actually Les Revenentes. I’ll fix the entry above.

  4. My novel has been written entirely with articles, prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns, interjections, and adverbs, with no nouns, verbs, or adjectives.

  5. Effete conceptualist snob. My novel is written without any words at all!

  6. What the… You… No!

  7. The Telegraph missed a precedent pre-dating Perec: Ernest Vincent Wright’s Gadsby.

  8. Here‘s the direct link to Pugna Porcorum, a page filled with poetry using only words starting with a certain letter:
    Plaudite porcelli, porcorum pigra propago.
    Progreditur, plurea porci pinguedine pleni
    Pugnantes pergunt, pecudem pare prodigiosa
    Perturbat pede petrosas plerumque plateas,
    Pars portentose populorum prata profanat
    Pars pungit populando potens; pars plurima plagis…
    By the way, my “What the…” comment was meant to come directly after zizka’s; Kip, by sneaking in there ahead of me, deprived it of what little sense it originally made.

  9. The Chinese have many categories of “odd poems” (qi shi), including anagram poems, poems readable either forward or backward, visual poems made up entirely of a single repeated syllable, riddles and gnomes, etc., etc. The most amazing was a text from which dozens (as I remember, over a hundred) correct four-line poems could be extracted reading forward, backward, vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. As I remember, it was like Penelope’s weaving — a neglected or abandoned wife or a widow had a lot of time on her hands.

  10. A poem without words is nothing much; I could probably compose a decent one in Russian in a few days. There is a well-known, much-parodied and yet undoubtedly good Russian lyrical poem that’s verbless: Afanasy Fet’s Shopot, legkoye dykhan’ye… (‘Whisper; light breath’; and that before Wrigley’s advent).

  11. Pretty daring for 1850!

  12. zizka: You are referring to “The Flowers in the Mirror” (Jing Hua Yuan) by Li Ruzhen, an 18th century novel about flower faries and Tang Empress Wu Zetian. Chapter 41 contains a massive matrix of a weaving from which the palindromic poems are extracted by travelling around the edges, reading across colored patches in all directions. It’s best viewed in color, but all of the online sources seem to have formatting problems. Scroll down to the red and blue, or look for a black square of characters.
    The story of this tapestry apparently predates the novel, going back as early as a story about a Jin dynasty woman crafted the 841 character weaving with 200-odd poems. I don’t know if the author of “The Flowers in the Mirror” used an existing matrix or wrote his own. The novel, in any event, abounds with jokes, old legends, and linguistic curiosities–there’s a great joke about a man named Wang and how he names his eight sons, for example.
    In re other qishi: Su Dongpo was a poet known for his palindromes, among other things.

  13. Oh, and I’ve gone and put my foot in yet another joke. Humblest apologies to all and sundry. [Thinks of funny exit line; departs, wryly chastened.]

  14. Shame on me! What a loss of face! Fet’s famous line is Shopot, ROBKOYE dykhan’ye, timid breath, not light breath. Lyogkoye dykhan’ye is a short story by Ivan Bunin, but that’s an entirely different matter.

  15. I seem to remember hearing about a book-writing contest in France a few decades ago. I forget what the concept was supposed to be, but the winning entry was titled “Who runs the world?” and had one word to it: “Money”.

  16. Alexei, for these tears I love you even more.
    (And accidentally, for the slip. I did the same recently – apparently, legkoe dykhan’e is something I lack)

  17. The tapestry reference reminds me of “Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes” (implemented here) by Raymond Queneau of the OULIPO.

  18. … or here, which leads to a couple of Englishtranslations.

  19. As the author of the original “Verbs Bad Manifesto,” whose purpose I shall neither attempt to defend nor explain here, I would like to point out that upon the advent of Scholastic’s giving the copyright back to me in 2003, the Verbs Bad Manifesto, New and With Improvements, was posted here:
    Perhaps Mark S will find it more palatable than the original version.
    And perhaps, just perhaps, this Mr. Thaler will acknowledge that it was my idea first. I first wrote the essay in its original form in November 2000, as the Scholastic company can attest. As a consolation prize, I’d be willing to give him an autographed copy of 501 French Verbs Fully Conjugated.

  20. i wrote a story once.

  21. Sandy Clemons says

    I’ll go ahead and use verbs if you don’t mind. My comment is actually a rhetorical question. (I identify what it is so that the author(s?) of these grammatical fools. Don’t we see enough idiocy in the use of our language every day to actually seek out more examples? Another of the same kind of question might be, Do we truly have this much time to waste? If so, perhaps we should re-examine our lifestyles.

Speak Your Mind