Category: Georges Perec

A Void – post II

Before he disappeared Anton Vowl sent messages to several friends to tip them off that something has happened or is going to happen. The clues lead them to the zoo, to a lawyer who is holding Anton’s diaries and then to yet another friend who has more information.

The diaries seem to obsess about Moby Dick and the way the whale pulled them all into the void. But at the same time another well-known solicitor dies and at the funeral the friends meet up and are witnesses to the coffin dropping, opening and being revealed as empty.

That concludes the section on Anton and the narrative moves onto focus on the next stage of the investigation. One oddity, although how can you single out one in a book full of them, is the way that most of the male characters have lost their children in unusual circumstances.

It is hard to keep up with it sometimes as the narrative goes off at tangents and the plot moves backwards and forwards through literary and mathematical references. Numbers and characters seem to be important although not always clear. Even as a reader you sense the book dropping through a void in the middle of Anton Vowl’s rug taking you and everything else along with it.

More tomorrow…

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A Void – post I

Sometimes you get reminded just how adventurous literature can be. Okay it sounds contrived to produce a novel without using a single letter ‘e’ but what ambition trying to do it. As you start reading you spend a few pages just trying to find an escaped ‘e’ and there are moments when he inserts a dash or apostrophe where a e should have been. But most of the time he simply chooses to express the story without using words containing ‘e’s.

The result is odd, not in an unpleasant way, but there is a different rhythm. The story is also written in a way that is no necessarily easy to get to grips with. There are hidden jokes, with famous French literary characters popping up, and references to mathematical and philosophical debates that are far out of my realm.

But at the heart of the story there is a character named Anton Vowl who becomes obsessed with the idea that he is slipping into a void. He suffers from insomnia and becomes more unable to distinguish between reality and dreams. He commits his increasingly random thoughts to paper and then disappears.

More tomorrow…

book of books – Life A Users Manual


When you try to describe this book to someone you realise the ambition of Georges Perec. He describes a Parisian apartment block and then goes through it room by room describing the notable features and objects and telling the stories of those who lived in the rooms both past and present. At points he goes off on long interesting tangents and at others he concentrates of a developing story that concludes the book. In between he redefines the reading experience with lists of the tales that feature in the book as well as illustrations of the words that occasionally pop up on books and papers in the apartment.

There is no chance that this review can do the book justice, not because it is some work of genius that is above criticism, but because it is in place indefinable and as a result you might be able to pin down one part that works or doesn’t work but there are 100 other parts that are different.

Plot summary
There are several different things going on here with a story of the puzzle maker and the puzzle solver with Winckler and Bartlebooth; a comment on the state of Paris by the way the building is threatened by destruction; along with that there are lots of different stories, some short and some long, about the people who live in the flats. But at the end he manages to compress it all into seconds and that is one of the most powerful moments of the book, when you realise that all of these observations have been made without time passing more than a fraction of a few seconds. But the story that you are left with is one of a rich Englishman Bartlebooth who spends ten years learning how to paint watercolours, twenty years painting 500 different ports and then sending them back for Winckler to make into 750-piece jigsaw puzzles. Bartlebooth then solves the puzzles at a rate of one a fortnight and sends them back to where they were created and they are dipped into the water and the blank sheet of paper is sent back to him – a pointless life’s work but one that is completely harmless. But in the end it is made hazardous by the interest from the media, the personal cost to Bartlebooth with blindness and the almost bitter battle he plays out against Winckler who puts traps into the puzzles with the way he shapes the pieces. There are a hundred plus stories that run alongside this one but ultimately it is the Bartlebooth story you remember and it is with his death that the book concludes.

IS it well written?
You will probably struggle to find a book that is similar to this in ambition and style. It is brilliant at weaving a web that maintains the interest and continues to show what life is like in Paris and how it has changed. In a way this is a psychological battle over a jigsaw, a social history of Paris and a series of tales that are of differing interest. But it is never dull and you have to credit Perec with a style that keeps it going. Part of the reason it does keep going is because unlike Proust, who is equally ambitions in using objects to describe an era or a person, Perec reels off long lists of paintings and books but in a very detached way that allows the reader to walk through the apartment block almost like a museum or in some ways as a ghost travelling between the past and the present.

Should it be read?
This should be tackled by anyone who wants to see what French literature had to say for itself in the 1960s and 70s. There is a hint of the heavy war time legacy with a couple of characters having wartime obsessions but most of the book illustrates a society that is class ridden, based on money as well as heritage, and although living in a community still deeply individualistic. From a budding writer point of view it shows how far you can push a style, from a reader’s point of view makes you dwell on the thin line between a tale and real experience and from a sociologist point of view provides a great idea of the differences between people living all within a few metres of each other.

Summary
A society is shown through the world of an apartment block with the puzzle of life never quite being solved

Version read – Harvill paperback

book of books – Life A Users Manual


When you try to describe this book to someone you realise the ambition of Georges Perec. He describes a Parisian apartment block and then goes through it room by room describing the notable features and objects and telling the stories of those who lived in the rooms both past and present. At points he goes off on long interesting tangents and at others he concentrates of a developing story that concludes the book. In between he redefines the reading experience with lists of the tales that feature in the book as well as illustrations of the words that occasionally pop up on books and papers in the apartment.

There is no chance that this review can do the book justice, not because it is some work of genius that is above criticism, but because it is in place indefinable and as a result you might be able to pin down one part that works or doesn’t work but there are 100 other parts that are different.

Plot summary
There are several different things going on here with a story of the puzzle maker and the puzzle solver with Winckler and Bartlebooth; a comment on the state of Paris by the way the building is threatened by destruction; along with that there are lots of different stories, some short and some long, about the people who live in the flats. But at the end he manages to compress it all into seconds and that is one of the most powerful moments of the book, when you realise that all of these observations have been made without time passing more than a fraction of a few seconds. But the story that you are left with is one of a rich Englishman Bartlebooth who spends ten years learning how to paint watercolours, twenty years painting 500 different ports and then sending them back for Winckler to make into 750-piece jigsaw puzzles. Bartlebooth then solves the puzzles at a rate of one a fortnight and sends them back to where they were created and they are dipped into the water and the blank sheet of paper is sent back to him – a pointless life’s work but one that is completely harmless. But in the end it is made hazardous by the interest from the media, the personal cost to Bartlebooth with blindness and the almost bitter battle he plays out against Winckler who puts traps into the puzzles with the way he shapes the pieces. There are a hundred plus stories that run alongside this one but ultimately it is the Bartlebooth story you remember and it is with his death that the book concludes.

IS it well written?
You will probably struggle to find a book that is similar to this in ambition and style. It is brilliant at weaving a web that maintains the interest and continues to show what life is like in Paris and how it has changed. In a way this is a psychological battle over a jigsaw, a social history of Paris and a series of tales that are of differing interest. But it is never dull and you have to credit Perec with a style that keeps it going. Part of the reason it does keep going is because unlike Proust, who is equally ambitions in using objects to describe an era or a person, Perec reels off long lists of paintings and books but in a very detached way that allows the reader to walk through the apartment block almost like a museum or in some ways as a ghost travelling between the past and the present.

Should it be read?
This should be tackled by anyone who wants to see what French literature had to say for itself in the 1960s and 70s. There is a hint of the heavy war time legacy with a couple of characters having wartime obsessions but most of the book illustrates a society that is class ridden, based on money as well as heritage, and although living in a community still deeply individualistic. From a budding writer point of view it shows how far you can push a style, from a reader’s point of view makes you dwell on the thin line between a tale and real experience and from a sociologist point of view provides a great idea of the differences between people living all within a few metres of each other.

Summary
A society is shown through the world of an apartment block with the puzzle of life never quite being solved

Version read – Harvill paperback

book of books – Life A Users Manual


When you try to describe this book to someone you realise the ambition of Georges Perec. He describes a Parisian apartment block and then goes through it room by room describing the notable features and objects and telling the stories of those who lived in the rooms both past and present. At points he goes off on long interesting tangents and at others he concentrates of a developing story that concludes the book. In between he redefines the reading experience with lists of the tales that feature in the book as well as illustrations of the words that occasionally pop up on books and papers in the apartment.

There is no chance that this review can do the book justice, not because it is some work of genius that is above criticism, but because it is in place indefinable and as a result you might be able to pin down one part that works or doesn’t work but there are 100 other parts that are different.

Plot summary
There are several different things going on here with a story of the puzzle maker and the puzzle solver with Winckler and Bartlebooth; a comment on the state of Paris by the way the building is threatened by destruction; along with that there are lots of different stories, some short and some long, about the people who live in the flats. But at the end he manages to compress it all into seconds and that is one of the most powerful moments of the book, when you realise that all of these observations have been made without time passing more than a fraction of a few seconds. But the story that you are left with is one of a rich Englishman Bartlebooth who spends ten years learning how to paint watercolours, twenty years painting 500 different ports and then sending them back for Winckler to make into 750-piece jigsaw puzzles. Bartlebooth then solves the puzzles at a rate of one a fortnight and sends them back to where they were created and they are dipped into the water and the blank sheet of paper is sent back to him – a pointless life’s work but one that is completely harmless. But in the end it is made hazardous by the interest from the media, the personal cost to Bartlebooth with blindness and the almost bitter battle he plays out against Winckler who puts traps into the puzzles with the way he shapes the pieces. There are a hundred plus stories that run alongside this one but ultimately it is the Bartlebooth story you remember and it is with his death that the book concludes.

IS it well written?
You will probably struggle to find a book that is similar to this in ambition and style. It is brilliant at weaving a web that maintains the interest and continues to show what life is like in Paris and how it has changed. In a way this is a psychological battle over a jigsaw, a social history of Paris and a series of tales that are of differing interest. But it is never dull and you have to credit Perec with a style that keeps it going. Part of the reason it does keep going is because unlike Proust, who is equally ambitions in using objects to describe an era or a person, Perec reels off long lists of paintings and books but in a very detached way that allows the reader to walk through the apartment block almost like a museum or in some ways as a ghost travelling between the past and the present.

Should it be read?
This should be tackled by anyone who wants to see what French literature had to say for itself in the 1960s and 70s. There is a hint of the heavy war time legacy with a couple of characters having wartime obsessions but most of the book illustrates a society that is class ridden, based on money as well as heritage, and although living in a community still deeply individualistic. From a budding writer point of view it shows how far you can push a style, from a reader’s point of view makes you dwell on the thin line between a tale and real experience and from a sociologist point of view provides a great idea of the differences between people living all within a few metres of each other.

Summary
A society is shown through the world of an apartment block with the puzzle of life never quite being solved

Version read – Harvill paperback

Life A User’s Manual – post VIII

Hurrah it’s only been a week and a half but at last a book gets completed.

All of a sudden – and there is not too much space left anyway – the Bartlebooth story starts to dominate and the anecdotes start to lean in onto the development of that core story.

By this stage of the book you start to value the style, which is best described as a detached Proust, his gaze never misses anything but there is not the emotional involvement with it and you can go from a story about a triple murder to something about a hotel chain without barely pausing for breath.

The ending comes and you are left wanting more – more of the stories of the people who lived in the apartment block and more of the tales that its objects inspire.

Bullet points between pages 410 – 500

* The story of Helene Borodin is told with her deciding to seek her own form of justice by tracking down her husband’s killers and snuffing them out one by one before heading back to France from America

* Then there is a long-winded description of how two hotel groups signed a strategic deal to try and compete with the growing number of multinational competitors by setting up the most exclusive hotels in the world

* Along with providing guests unique experiences like their own ski slopes the hotel chain plans to offer some of the most unique art and after hiring a well known critic Beyssandre and gives him five years to find the most famous art

* He reads about the Bartlebooth painting, jigsaw making, puzzle solving and then destruction and decides that those pictures would be the most unique in the world and after writing to Bartlebooth indicates he is prepared to start killing to get his hands on the pictures

* Just as it seems that the pictures will have to be destroyed in another way the hotel chain folds and nothing more is heard of the critic and Bartlebooth can return to his struggle to finish the puzzles

* There is then a tale of the young Reol family who are almost bankrupted by their desire to have a luxurious bedroom suite but just as it seems to be black things are saved; then there is the tale of the man who believes Hitler is alive; and a final mention of Hutting the painter

* But the book closes with Bartlebooth dying with Winckler’s final twist in his hand, a jigsaw piece that should be an X shape which is fact shaped as a W with him gone his old water colour teacher also dies and his servant disappears bringing to an end one of the main characters of the apartment block

As things reach their conclusion with Bartlebooth there is an incredibly powerful reminder that this entire book has been describing real time of just a few minutes and as an achievement this book is an incredible one

A review will follow over the weekend…

Life A User’s Manual – post VIII

Hurrah it’s only been a week and a half but at last a book gets completed.

All of a sudden – and there is not too much space left anyway – the Bartlebooth story starts to dominate and the anecdotes start to lean in onto the development of that core story.

By this stage of the book you start to value the style, which is best described as a detached Proust, his gaze never misses anything but there is not the emotional involvement with it and you can go from a story about a triple murder to something about a hotel chain without barely pausing for breath.

The ending comes and you are left wanting more – more of the stories of the people who lived in the apartment block and more of the tales that its objects inspire.

Bullet points between pages 410 – 500

* The story of Helene Borodin is told with her deciding to seek her own form of justice by tracking down her husband’s killers and snuffing them out one by one before heading back to France from America

* Then there is a long-winded description of how two hotel groups signed a strategic deal to try and compete with the growing number of multinational competitors by setting up the most exclusive hotels in the world

* Along with providing guests unique experiences like their own ski slopes the hotel chain plans to offer some of the most unique art and after hiring a well known critic Beyssandre and gives him five years to find the most famous art

* He reads about the Bartlebooth painting, jigsaw making, puzzle solving and then destruction and decides that those pictures would be the most unique in the world and after writing to Bartlebooth indicates he is prepared to start killing to get his hands on the pictures

* Just as it seems that the pictures will have to be destroyed in another way the hotel chain folds and nothing more is heard of the critic and Bartlebooth can return to his struggle to finish the puzzles

* There is then a tale of the young Reol family who are almost bankrupted by their desire to have a luxurious bedroom suite but just as it seems to be black things are saved; then there is the tale of the man who believes Hitler is alive; and a final mention of Hutting the painter

* But the book closes with Bartlebooth dying with Winckler’s final twist in his hand, a jigsaw piece that should be an X shape which is fact shaped as a W with him gone his old water colour teacher also dies and his servant disappears bringing to an end one of the main characters of the apartment block

As things reach their conclusion with Bartlebooth there is an incredibly powerful reminder that this entire book has been describing real time of just a few minutes and as an achievement this book is an incredible one

A review will follow over the weekend…