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Head of Zeus
On the Line
01 Apr 2021 * HARDBACK * £16.99 * 9781800243965

Joseph enlists with a temp agency and starts to pick up casual shifts in the fish processing plants and abattoirs of Brittany. A novel in verse that captures the mundane, the beautiful and the strange, in poignant contrast with the blood and sweat of the factory floor.

Fiction / DCF (Poetry)
Extent: 272 pages  Format: 210 x 130 mm
Exclusive: GB CA IN ZA SG US   Not for sale: AU NZ
On the Lineby Joseph Ponthus, translated by Stephanie Smee

A celebrated French bestseller, this novel in verse that captures the mundane and the beautiful, the blood and sweat, of working on the factory floor in the processing plants and abattoirs of Brittany.

Unable to find work in his field, Joseph Ponthus enlists with a temp agency and starts to pick up casual shifts in the fish processing plants and abattoirs of Brittany. Day after day he records with infinite precision the nature of work on the production line: the noise, the weariness, the dreams stolen by the repetitive nature of exhausting rituals and physical suffering. But he finds solace in a life previously lived.

Shelling prawns, he dreams of Alexandre Dumas. Pushing cattle carcasses, he recalls Apollinaire. And, in the grace of the blank spaces created by his insistent return to a new line of text – mirroring his continued return to the production line – we discover the woman he loves, the happiness of a Sunday, Pok Pok the dog, the smell of the sea.

In this celebrated French bestseller, translated by Stephanie Smee, Ponthus captures the mundane, the beautiful and the strange, writing with an elegance and humour that sit in poignant contrast with the blood and sweat of the factory floor. On the Line is a poet's ode to manual labour, and to the human spirit that makes it bearable.

Praise for On the Line:

'Poetic and political, lyrical and realistic, Joseph Ponthus' spirited elegy is at once surprising, captivating and affecting' Télérama

'It is not every day that one witnesses the birth of a writer' France 5 La Grande Librairie

'A work that is powerful, clever, benevolent, optimistic even. Essential reading' Causette

'Be prepared for a battering of the senses with vivid, grisly prose' France Magazine

Joseph Ponthus (1978-2021) worked for over ten years as a social worker and special needs teacher in the suburbs of Paris. He was co-author of Nous... La Cité (The Suburbs Are Ours) and his masterpiece À la Ligne (On the Line) was published in France in 2019 to great acclaim. It won several literary prizes, including the Grand Prix RTL/Lire and the Prix Régine Deforges, and became a major bestseller.

Equal parts shocking and beautiful – the bloodied and back-breaking reality of working in factories and abattoirs, told in elegant prose poetry.

Based on the author's own work in factories and abattoirs, and the first of the author's work translated into English.

The French edition, A la ligne, won the Grand prix RTL-Lire, the prix Régine-Deforges, the prix Eugène-Dabit and the prix Jean Amila-Meckert.

MARKET: The Emperor's Babe - Bernardine Evaristo; The Golden Gate - Vikram Seth; The Long Take - Robin Robertson; Last Night's Fun - Ciaran Carson; Citizen - Claudia Rankine; History: the Home Movie - Craig Raine.


'Poetic and political, lyrical and realistic, Joseph Ponthus' spirited elegy is at once surprising, captivating and affecting' Télérama

'It is not every day that one witnesses the birth of a writer' France 5 La Grande Librairie

'A work that is powerful, clever, benevolent, optimistic even. Essential reading' Causette

'Be prepared for a battering of the senses with vivid, grisly prose' France Magazine

'A lasting gift to the French – and now the English – literary landscape. You don't need to be a poetry aficionado to be stirred by the understated beauty of Ponthus's writing, and Stephanie Smee's superb translation, nor to be moved by the world that Ponthus paints and probes. A world in which the vicissitudes of factory life are illuminated with wit and wisdom, and joy can be found twinkling where you least expect it' European Literature Network

'Writing from real-life experience, Ponthus details the drudgery, exhaustion, frustration, horror, stress, satisfaction and occasional joy found working in an industrial food factory. Using an experimental style that's half verse, half prose, he makes this refrigerated, sanitised, fluorescent-lit world feel beautiful, even romantic. I found myself dropping the book into my lap for minutes at a time just to process just how fucked-up his experience is. This is a powerful – but not preachy or guilt-tripping – window into an ugly, opaque system we're all part of' Broadsheet

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