There are cult classics and cult classics. You might quote Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk at me, or maybe The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, or if you are really way out there A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. But for my money one of the cultest classics (or classical cults, or whatever) is a little-known masterpiece that goes by the name of Mots d’Heure, Gousses, Rames. It was written by Luis d’Antin van Rooten (1906 – 1973), who, if the evidence of the book is anything to go by, was something of a genius. Mexican-born Van Rooten gave up a career as an architect to seek his fortune as a Hollywood actor at the height of World War II. He had an amazing facility with languages and moonlighted as a military radio announcer during the war, in French, Italian and Spanish. He was also in demand for screen roles that required someone with an accent or was adept at speaking dialects.
His book Mots d’Heure Gousses, Rames, as you might expect from the title, is written in French – but rather odd, archaic-sounding French. The book ostensibly contains a collection of poems, which have scholarly footnotes attached to them. In fact, the brilliant idea behind this book is that if you read the French poems aloud they sound exactly like English nursery rhymes spoken with a French accent. This is called homophonic writing and here’s an example from the start of the book: