By Anne Garréta
Translated from the French by Emma Ramadan

A landmark literary event: the first novel by a female member of Oulipo in English, a sexy genderless love story.

Recipient of the French Embassy’s Hemingway Grant for Translation

Publication Date: April 21, 2015

Paperback: 9781941920091
Ebook: 9781941920084



Sphinx is the debut novel, originally published in 1986, by the incredibly talented and inventive French author Anne Garréta, one of the few female members of OuLiPo, the influential and exclusive French experimental literary group whose mission is to create literature based on mathematical and linguistic restraints, and whose ranks include Georges Perec, Italo Calvino, and Raymond Queneau, among others. Sphinx is a remarkable work of literary ingenuity: a beautiful and complex love story between two characters, the narrator, “I,” and A., written completely without any gendered pronouns or gender markers referring to the main characters, all the more difficult with the strict gender requirements of the French language. In addition to her creative output, Garréta is a scholar of French and Romance literatures, and teaches half the year at the University of Rennes in France, and the other half of the year at Duke University. Sphinx is Garréta’s first novel to appear in English, and was published with support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States.

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I never alluded to what I had so indistinctly perceived in my sleep, and neither did A***. There were always inexplicable silences between us, a sort of prudishness or reserve that kept us from broaching certain intimate subjects. We kept the evidence hidden away, even avoiding the use of expressions that seemed improper, excessive, or bizarre. A*** would never show any immoderate affection, and I was constantly forcing myself not to criticize the escapades I witnessed. Once, only once, I was weak enough to reveal my jealousy, which had been gnawing away at me. In the same vein, A*** only once slipped in showing tenderness toward me, using words and gestures that we had never before allowed ourselves to use.

This single jealous episode took place in the dressing room of the Eden where, one night, I came upon A*** in the company of a man I had seen fairly often in the wings the previous week, whom I suspected to be A***’s latest lover. Normally I pretended not to give a damn about the goings-on of A***’s libido; the number and nature of A***’s escapades were none of my business. What right did I have to be jealous, since there was nothing between us other than platonic affection? But that night I could not bear to see this lugubrious cretin, in the seat that I habitually occupied, engaged with A*** in the sort of conversation I had thought was reserved for me alone. This substitution outraged me: the idea that in my absence someone could take my place, could be the object of identical attentions. I was willing to admit that I was not everything for A***, but I refused to accept that what I was, achieved through a hard-fought struggle, could be taken over by someone else, and apparently by anyone at all. The sole merit of the lover in question was his idiocy: his inane conversation was doubtless a nice break from the thornier discussions A*** and I typically had. A*** thought he had a beautiful face, entrancing eyes, and good fashion sense. I was shocked by A***’s poor taste, by the appreciation of such an individual: an Adonis from a centerfold with a stupidly handsome face.


Nominated for the 2016 PEN Translation Prize


One of Flavorwire’s Top 50 Independent Books of 2015
One of Entropy Magazine‘s Best Fiction Books of 2015
One of Bookriot‘s 100 Must-Read Books Translated From French

Sphinx is one of FSG editor Jackson Howard’s favorite books of 2018 on the FSG Work in Progress blog

“The set-up is such a classic, relatable tale of falling in — and out — of love that one wonders why gender has always been such a huge factor in how we discuss relationships, in fiction and otherwise. . . . So, the author, and the translator, created their own language, championing love and desire over power and difference.” — Maddie Crum, Huffington Post

“Garréta’s aim was to overthrow gender binaries carried by language, and in light of recent demands by transgender groups to use gender neutral pronouns, Sphinx seems curiously prescient.” — Catherine Humble, The Times Literary Supplement (TLS)

“…Sphinx highlights the already limiting nature of language when it comes to matters of gender, and of love.” — Stephanie Hayes, The Atlantic

“The strength of [Sphinx] lies in its philosophical eloquence . . . Take away gender and race from the book, and what’s left? Love, viewed as a nihilistic transcendence . . . considerably more than a language game.” — Adam Mars-Jones, London Review of Books

“Sphinx is an almost effortlessly readable, atmospheric love story, like a Marguerite Duras novel starring a pair of genderless paramours who haunt the after-hours clubs and cabarets of Paris. The conceit is so simple and so potent that it’s impossible to get too far without pondering big questions about the role gender plays in the way we think about love in literature — and in life.” — Juey Berman, Flavorwire

“In this sense, just as the novel is genderless, it is also genderfull . . . Garréta finds endless shades of in between and out of bounds, her characters taking shapes no other text before—or since—has imagined.” — Lauren Elkin, Bookforum

“For Garréta, it just may be possible then that the body occupies the space of language as powerfully as its capacity to produce it.” — Tyler Curtis, BOMB Magazine

“Sphinx is a novel of passion and loss that transcends gender and speaks to the universality of desire and loss, morality, spiritual crisis and the need to connect and belong. It’s also a novel that captivates and propels the reader to question the boundaries of desire and memory—and which one ultimately holds us captive.” — Monica Carter, Three Percent

“I must start by saying that I simply devoured this book. Its romp through seamy Paris nightclubs; its exacting portrait of a passionate affair; and its exploration of both mileus with a deft mixture of immediacy and intellectual detachment had me absolutely obsessed with it — I just had to know what was happening next.” — Miriam Bridenne, Albertine Books, “4 French Women Writers To Discover This Summer!”

“Centering her tale on the love and lust of a young couple in the Parisian underworld allows Garréta to train our eyes on the physical beauty of youth, the sensuality of anonymous bodies, and our preconceptions regarding both. The bodies of je and A***, left bare of gender markers, create the need for a new, more vigilant kind of reading that involves a constant undoing of assumptions. They cry: Read yourselves, not just us.” — Jane Yong Kim, Words Without Borders

“However, the fragments that do surface from this unconscious reservoir are vividly and eloquently incarnated. This is particularly true of the prose around lights, music, and bodies—the primary elements that compose nightclubs. They are rendered in rapturous tones . . . I could go on—exquisite fragments like these are packaged in nearly every page.” — John Taylor, The Rumpus

“Spectacular.” —Aaron Westerman, Typographical Era (5-star review)

“Quite remarkable, and a rewarding piece of experimental—in the best senses of the word—fiction.” —Complete Review

“Masterful…an extremely ambitious experiment pushing the boundaries of language.” —Sarah Coolidge, Zyzzyva

The reader is both forced and free to provide what the author has pointedly left out of the text. Even if a reader is aware of the book’s constraint, moving his or her or their eyes across the page at a sufficient speed, the reader begins to add the pronouns Ramadan was so careful to exorcise. Which ones in particular will vary: the book is a Rorschach test for each reader’s assumptions about gender and the writing of gender. These assumptions are as likely to be conditioned by clues within the text as by the knowledge of paratextual facts about it.” — Ryan Ruby, 3 Quarks Daily

“Garréta’s elimination of gendered language [is] a kind of prolonged zero moment, a drawn-out suspension that does not eliminate gender so much as create a placeholder for it. In this way, Garréta’s novel serves as an invitation for readers to stay with the uncertainty produced by bracketing the gender question.” — Taylor Eggån, The Exploded View

Sphinx lets us glimpse a world where one may be free to not be defined by gender, or to even evade it altogether, opening up almost infinite possibilities of identification for readers.”- A.K. Afferez, Ploughshares blog

“Verve, loss, mourning, death. All in a moment which come upon us. Perhaps we wouldn’t talk so much about this book if not for its feats. But its narrator driven to give tangibility and record to memory, too leaves a lasting image.” — More Bedside Books Blog 

Included in Bustle‘s “23 Books in Translation by Women Writers”

One of the Dallas Observer‘s “13 Books to Read this Summer”

The Paris Review Staff Pick by Charlotte Groult

Featured in Off The Shelf‘s “12 Innovative books to get you out of your reading rut”


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