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Letters to Stanley Chapman

By Boris Vian

Atlas Press & bookartbookshop, 2009

ISBN: 9781900565509

Boris Vian

‘The main thing in life is to leap to every possible conclusion on every possible occasion.’

These words, the opening sentence of Boris Vian’s first novel as translated into English by Stanley Chapman, could be taken almost as a ‘Pataphysical Imperative.  That novel, Froth on the Daydream, received its first English publication in 1967, some eight years after Vian’s obscenely early death, but the two men had corresponded much earlier, in the mid-‘50s.  This elegant booklet presents facsimiles of seven of Vian’s letters.

In one, Vian writes that he has ‘had a bad time taking care of a fluttering heart’, a presentiment perhaps of the cardiac attack that would later strike him down.  Anyway, he comes across in the letters as a friendly guy, a giver, his writing full of bawdy wordplay.  There’s mention of ‘a cuntemporary celebrity’ in another letter, an epithet that should be used more often nowadays.  Limericks are discussed at the beginning and they apparently exchange some of their efforts (Vian praises Chapman’s limericks, though none are included here, showing them to a friend, the Scottish comedian Monty Landis) and in later letters the two embark on a project to write songs together.  The plan is to write songs in a rock ’n’ roll style, then a new-fangled thing, with Chapman translating and adapting Vian’s French lyrics.  The correspondence becomes a bit more business-like and matter of fact here.  Some songs, typewritten and with a few annotations, are included in the booklet – they came with the letters.

Why did the correspondence end?  Are Chapman’s own letters extant?  Is this the full haul of Vian’s letters to his English friend?  I confess I don’t know the answers to these questions.  Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one small error in presentation: the fourth letter (dated 9 April 1956) was written before the third (3 Sept 1956), otherwise they are presented in chronological order.

For fans and admirers of Boris Vian, a man of myriad talents, this is a welcome publication.  An elegantly produced booklet, consisting of red lettering on a marbled cream cover and art paper between, it is well worthy of its subject.

Some further information about Boris Vian can be read here.