Michel Thaler’s verbless novel

Source: itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/

It seems I am a little late to the party to this one, but still worth talking about: in 2004, a French writer called Michel Thaler wrote a novel, Le Train de Nulle Part (“The Nowhere Train”), that contains no verbs. Not one single verb.

As anybody who has taken any kind of language classes (or has even the vaguest recollection of English grammar from school), verbs are… well, they’re pretty important. Integral, you might say. Try writing even one sentence without using a verb, and you’ll find that it creates a pretty strange effect – now imagine a whole novel written like that (though, of course, the novel was written in French).

Strangely, it seems that Thaler didn’t do this just to prove he could, either – he seems to be fundamentally against the entire notion of verbs. From the article on languagelog:

Thaler describes verbs as “invaders, dictators, and usurpers of our literature”, adding “the verb is like a weed in a field of flowers … You have to get rid of it to allow the flowers to grow and flourish.” He has banned infinitives as well as tensed verbs entirely from his writing, but he does exempt past participles from his linguistic Nuremberg Laws.

Thaler is also quoted (in a verbfully hypocritical passage) as saying: “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.”

I’ve occasionally encountered drivers like that, but none who has also written a novel. Confusingly, Thaler’s road rage is applied not to other drivers, nor even, in the novel, to the guilty imperialistic verbs, but instead to the many passengers on an imaginary train, whom he attacks individually, at length, and in vitriolic (though verbless) detail.

It takes all sorts, I suppose…