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Life A User's Manual PDF, ePub eBook


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Title: Life A User's Manual
Author: Georges Perec
Publisher: Published October 1988 by David R. Godine, Publisher (first published 1978)
ISBN: 9780879237516
Status : FREE Rating :
4.6 out of 5

28293.Life_A_User_s_Manual.pdf

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Life is an unclassified masterpiece, a sprawling compendium as encyclopedic as Dante's Commedia and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and, in its break with tradition, as inspiring as Joyce's Ulysses. Perec's spellbinding puzzle begins in an apartment block in the XVIIth arrondissement of Paris where, chapter by chapter, room by room, like an onion being peeled, and extraordinary Life is an unclassified masterpiece, a sprawling compendium as encyclopedic as Dante's Commedia and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and, in its break with tradition, as inspiring as Joyce's Ulysses. Perec's spellbinding puzzle begins in an apartment block in the XVIIth arrondissement of Paris where, chapter by chapter, room by room, like an onion being peeled, and extraordinary rich cast of characters is revealed in a series of tales that are bizarre, unlikely, moving, funny, or (sometimes) quite ordinary. From the confessions of a racing cyclist to the plans of an avenging murderer, from a young ethnographer obsessed with a Sumatran tribe to the death of a trapeze artist, from the fears of an ex-croupier to the dreams of a sex-change pop star to an eccentric English millionaire who has devised the ultimate pastime, Life is a manual of human irony, portraying the mixed marriages of fortunes, passions and despairs, betrayals and bereavements, of hundreds of lives in Paris and around the world. But the novel in more than an extraordinary range of fictions; it is a closely observed account of life and experience. The apartment block's one hundred rooms are arranged in a magic square, and the book as a whole is peppered with a staggering range of literary puzzles and allusions, acrostics, problems of chess and logic, crosswords, and mathematical formulae. All are there for the reader to solve in the best tradition of the detective novel.

30 review for Life A User's Manual

  1. 4 out of 5

    Megha

    Last night after I had finished reading this book, there still lingered a smile on my face. I had read last 100-ish pages in a rush. It was only after I finished reading and put the book down that I realized that I was going to miss this charming book. After hearing out little anecdotes and life stories of a multitude of characters, after reliving moments of their lives through their stories, it is now time to say our goodbyes. I stand at the doorstep waving my hand and watching those figures shr Last night after I had finished reading this book, there still lingered a smile on my face. I had read last 100-ish pages in a rush. It was only after I finished reading and put the book down that I realized that I was going to miss this charming book. After hearing out little anecdotes and life stories of a multitude of characters, after reliving moments of their lives through their stories, it is now time to say our goodbyes. I stand at the doorstep waving my hand and watching those figures shrink in the distance. I already miss them. Long after the last one of them has gone past the horizon, one would see me still leaning against the door-frame, lost in my thoughts and smiling to myself. Someone gently touches my shoulder and wakes me up from daydreams. I go back inside to get back to my daily responsibilities, but today it is somehow different. Today is different because I carry this refreshing and heartwarming feeling within me. Now I am having a hard time figuring out what book to read after this while I go through a Perec withdrawal. I certainly don't want a book to punch me in the gut with its 'life is harsh' or 'the world and its people are going to the dogs' messages right now. Perec's Life is uplifting and pro-life. Perec daubs the canvas with uncountable shades, from humorous to heart-breaking. But he is never pessimistic. I wouldn't want its refreshing fragrance to fade away too fast. The novel has been written following several constraints. But it in no way alienates the reader. The reader is warmly welcomed with open arms and made to feel at home. This book is best read slowly over a couple of weeks while savoring little moments and several lives you encounter through this.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    The first time I laid eyes on Georges Perec (not too dissimilar from his profile photo) many wild thoughts went through my head, a former child genius maybe, who had a nervous breakdown, ran away from home and was taken in by a religious cult that wore white robes and worshipped the moons of Jupiter, or a crazy scientist who spent far too much time in a dingy basement playing around with bunsen-burners and messing with chemical formulas, or how about a quite brilliant eccentric piano player who The first time I laid eyes on Georges Perec (not too dissimilar from his profile photo) many wild thoughts went through my head, a former child genius maybe, who had a nervous breakdown, ran away from home and was taken in by a religious cult that wore white robes and worshipped the moons of Jupiter, or a crazy scientist who spent far too much time in a dingy basement playing around with bunsen-burners and messing with chemical formulas, or how about a quite brilliant eccentric piano player who was kidnapped by a Colombian drug cartel and forced to play a birthday concert for the wife of a cartel boss in a hidden mansion, only to develop a seriously bad coke habit before being released. Sometimes our minds wonder here, there and everywhere!, in the case of Perec, he takes the concept of an imaginative mindset but rises to a whole other level. Paul Auster who was a big fan is quoted as saying 'a dazzling, crazy-quilt monument to the imagination', well, it's every bit dazzling, monumental in size, and as for imagination it's simply like nothing else I have ever come across. From the opening few chapters, right through to it's end, Perec's ingenious novel is complex, puzzling, serious, side-splitting funny and wholly original. So, ever looked up at an apartment building and wondered what goes on in there? Ever looked at a lit window across the street and wanted to know what the person inside was getting up to? Ever seen an old lady, dressed in expensive clothes, walking her dog up the front steps of a grand town house and thought, just what her life has been like? All the things she has seen and done, her lost loves, the family that are no longer alive, where did she holiday?, does she have children? her whole existence echoing down the years?. Well Perec obviously did. Chapter by Chapter we are taken over by the many different lives that have inhabited a Parisian apartment block spanning sixty years. As Serge Valene (who is at the center of the novel) contemplates the lives of people he has seen come and go over the years, revealing the most diverse, marvelous, outrageous and strangest bunch of characters I can think of. The sheer quantity of them is nothing short of phenomenal! sometimes we are taken not just through the lives of residents, but also the history of their families as well, each and every tale within are, shall we say, never conventional and most border on damn right lunacy!, as for any plot, forget it. Travelling around rooms, floor by floor, entering through each door, we get a low down of the furniture, what type?, what colour?, is it old?, is it new? What's hung on walls?, what's the carpet like?, how's the bed?, what personal items are lying around?, what food is in the kitchen?, is there pets?, is the place tidy, messy, smelly?. And this only touches the surface!, as the attention to detail walking around these apartment rooms is so thorough, it feels as if you are trapped inside one gigantic department store showroom!, so the building itself becomes a living, breathing part of the jigsaw, just as much as the actual residents. We don't just get the occupants of each room, but previous occupants as well, and their life experiences, ups and downs, tears and laughter. There is a voyeuristic thrill the further we journey around the building, it grows on us, it becomes our home as much as theirs. And as various events overlap and interact with others, making Life feel more of a montage than a formal portrait, and geographically as well as historically leaves the reader completely bedazzled, but of course I have been so overly enthusiastic in my positives here, there must be negatives right? yes, there is. For a start navigating around over 100 rooms was always going to reach a point where possible boredom sets in, as the excess of descriptive narration throughout the whole book is er...excessive. Also with whole pages within chapters that contain various different lists, BIG ones!, it's quite easy to just skip through 2-3 pages and not really miss a thing. In fact I could see many people just skip whole chapters. Don't get me wrong , these lists are interesting, but do become tedious and reveal very little regarding the actual occupant of that particular room. However there is the bonus of drawings and extra textual material, some of which is genuinely useful for the overall reading process. Perec is also a bit of a showoff regarding his vast knowledge of the possibilities of consumerism in 70's Paris. But I guess in a way he has every right to feel overly confident. Perec simply brings us life, in all it's wonderful and strange glory. Sometimes normal, sometimes bonkers he does so on the shiniest of silver platters.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Geoff

    Another example of one of those rare works that seemingly contain Everything, Life does not lend itself to brief summation. Like one of those tiny foam dinosaurs that grow to a humongous size when soaked in water (is that really the best simile I can come up with? jesus...), after closing the last of its 600 pages I still feel it expanding. Just look at the appendices. Hundreds of characters, over hundreds of years, hundreds of stories, hundreds of interconnections, all planned down to the centi Another example of one of those rare works that seemingly contain Everything, Life does not lend itself to brief summation. Like one of those tiny foam dinosaurs that grow to a humongous size when soaked in water (is that really the best simile I can come up with? jesus...), after closing the last of its 600 pages I still feel it expanding. Just look at the appendices. Hundreds of characters, over hundreds of years, hundreds of stories, hundreds of interconnections, all planned down to the centimeter using these constraints. If Perec wrote no other book than this he would deservedly be considered a genius. The best novel of the 1970’s? Last half of the 20th century? I don’t know, but I’d put it in the running. Let’s argue about this heatedly in a 5 page comment thread. Or not. But there is an entire world come to life in these 600 pages, heavily populated, intricate, seething, over-full, all generated from the minute exploration of the individual living quarters in an apartment building on a fictional street in Paris. 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier, imaginary Paris, arrondissment Georges Perec. One of my absolute favorite films is Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. The main cinematic technique that lends the film its particular rhythm is the “slow zoom out”. A scene begins with the camera focused very closely on one or two subjects or objects, and then is slowly pulled back, maintaining a deep-field focus, deliberately and quietly minimizing the subjects within the frame of the screen, showing the size and composition of the world in which they are contained. There is a similar literary strategy at play in Life. Chapters usually begin with a few paragraphs describing in great detail objects in a particular room- paintings, furniture, appliances, clothing, knick-knacks, etc.- and then those objects are slowly “zoomed” away from, and the story is told of the inhabitants of those rooms, or of someone associated with those objects or the place in which those objects rest. The feeling evoked is similar in Barry Lyndon and Life, the tight focus on minutiae and then the slow revealing of its place in an immense story. Though there is a crucial difference. Kubrick’s technique was employed to show a thing’s limitations within a space; Perec’s technique is employed to show their resonance; how these small, almost indifferent things are the clues left behind that, when worked through, piece together immense worlds. So much of this book is lists of objects, beautifully described. Objects, which so readily accumulate the patina of time, which often outlive us, which stay where we leave them, signifiers of who we are, were, wanted to be- those versions of ourselves we discarded out of need or necessity or on a whim, what we sloughed off but couldn’t bring ourselves to throw away. Keepsakes of our affinities. Objects, whose arrangement in our lives is like the finger trace left in a film of dust on an old desk, the proof we came this way, did this or that. These can be things as simple as our socks and old photographs, souvenirs of voyages, or as complex as novels we write, the family trees we form a branch of. The way we arrange objects, and the objects we choose to keep around us, speak volumes of our interior lives. These lists of objects that make up so much of Life are the great part the characterizations of the people who make up this book. But lists of objects work in another way, too. Lists draw attention only to themselves. They leave the signifier untouched by a narrative purpose. Purposeless, they speak to the meaning of the word as it is written, and give only that meaning. By serving no purpose in a narrative, an object of pure description survives the various ways a story can be dragged into oblivion by the words employed in its telling. It is the thing itself. A book made up of lists is therefore an undying book, giving meaning only in and of itself and the objects it names. However, the objects in Life don’t sit there unattached to narrative, they initiate the endless narratives. Apart and interwoven, Perec has reconciled the solitary object with the relic of time (its “story”), by leaving the things accumulated as starting points of their own histories. So Life is both Flaubert’s ideal “book about nothing”, while simultaneously satisfying Queneau’s idea that all novels reflect either the Iliad or the Odyssey. A book of nothings and everythings; of things immobile as well as lives unfurling. Life is such a generous book, it gives so much, its complexities always yielding to some basic joy, its ironies giving insights, its tragedies so beautiful, its mysteries so delightful, its intelligence steeped in playfulness, its erudition serving such human ends. 1,001 Parisian Nights. Another infinite novel. “Sometimes Valène had the feeling that time had been stopped, suspended, frozen around he didn’t know what expectation. The very idea of the picture he planned to do and whose laid-out, broken-up images had begun to haunt every second of his life, furnishing his dreams, squeezing his memories, the very idea of this shattered building laying bare the cracks of its past, the crumbling of the present, this unordered amassing of stories grandiose and trivial, frivolous and pathetic, gave him the impression of a grotesque mausoleum raised in the memory of companions petrified in terminal postures as insignificant in their solemnity as they were in their ordinariness, as if he had wanted both to warn of and to delay these slow or quick deaths which seemed to be engulfing the entire building storey by storey. Monsieur Marcia, Madame Moreau, Madame de Beaumont, Bartlebooth, Rorschach, Mademoiselle Crespi, Madame Albin, Smautf. And himself, of course, Valène himself, the longest inhabitant of the house.”

  4. 4 out of 5

    Stacy

    i may have mentioned this before, but i had an ephiphanal reader experience last fall. last fall i was lucky enough to score a ticket to hear salman rushdie read at cornell. the experience left me not only with a hankering to read sir rushdie, but also to make a solemn promise to myself to read "less crap." a disclaimer: i don't think that any of what i read is actually "crap" but that my promise to myself was invoking rather a desire to put myself forward at least a fraction of the distance tha i may have mentioned this before, but i had an ephiphanal reader experience last fall. last fall i was lucky enough to score a ticket to hear salman rushdie read at cornell. the experience left me not only with a hankering to read sir rushdie, but also to make a solemn promise to myself to read "less crap." a disclaimer: i don't think that any of what i read is actually "crap" but that my promise to myself was invoking rather a desire to put myself forward at least a fraction of the distance that a truly gifted writer extends themselves when creating a masterful piece of literature. listening to rushdie, i realized i'd been having flings with lots of small novellas that required really nothing of me as a reader. they were passably enjoyable, in many cases i had become familiar with the writer's style and their cadence and this familiarity is pleasing to a reader, but i really hadn't sunk my teeth into anything that required of me any more than an ability to read. not that i needed to tackle the canon, whatever that was, but that life is short, man, and there are some amazing, nuanced, change-your-life tomes out there and i'd been avoiding them. so that in mind, i tore through rushdie's midnight's children (which entirely delivered on that front), and then cast about looking for the "what next." having a partner that majored in french literature is always handy in such situations. he recommended this novel. i let it fester on my bookshelf for a while (if 600 pages isn't intimidating, i don't know what is), and then finally put it in my suitcase to take back with me to berlin (where i am living/working remotely for a stretch). the novel is honestly, one of the most amazing things i have ever read. you are given many stories within the bindings, and many lifetimes. the novel takes you through the lives of all the inhabitants in an 1960's walk-up flat in paris, but with a difference. the rooms, the ephemera and the stories of each of these people carry equal importance throughout the novel, and while epic, it is not the traditional epic narrative of one or two family's lives. in the back of the book, preceding a rather fantastic index, is an architectural floorplan of the building, to which i found myself referring to in every story. each block stands for one person's abode, and often in italics above the current resident is the name of the previous long-term tenant. the stories of the lives of those in the building will leave you slack-jawed. you will wonder about the lives of those you know passingly or not at all, those that you encounter closely or obliquely in your everyday life. there are no morals or moralizing in this tome, and you will find yourself often on the heels of yet another impossibly captivating read about the details of one of the tenant's lives, and then immediately be cast into three pages discussing three paintings hanging on a wall in another apartment. this last artifact is something that exasperated my boyfriend, r., who has read it twice in the original french. perec once worked as an archivist at a neurophysiological research laboratory, which may account for his vast interest in the kinds of minutae described in the book (minutae which, in the original french, accounts for some pretty wacky and often anachronistic language that isn't always found in french-english dictionaries). you will find yourself encountering lists upon lists, and wondering what it all means, or worse, tempted to skim ahead to the next great story. DON'T. skim the lists, that is. as you read on, you will come to understand that the intention of the author both towards the novel and towards you, the reader, is to understand that the ephemera, the lists, the lives of things are every bit as important as the impossibly fantastic stories told side-by-side about the characters inhabiting the building. that while experiences gives these characters meaning in our eyes, these people's possessions, ephemera and clutter give meaning to theirs. you will find that they are given equal consideration and measure. you may further find yourself being surprised to agree with perec on his choosing and understanding of this matter. there is a kind of loose narrative thread in the novel, a few characters you are made to care about more than others. i don't want to give it away, but suffice it to say that each night that i sat down to read another 10, 20, or 100 pages of this novel, ryan was enjoying reliving his reading through my retelling of some little gem that i had just gotten to, or expanded my understanding of something that had occurred 200 pages earlier, or what-have-you. another note about reading it: it's not the kind of novel that you necessarily feel compelled to read straight through in a compressed amount of time. at least i didn't. i took a few months with this novel, and the pacing and manner of storytelling in it is such that it can be picked up and left off reasonably at most places in the book. when you finally finish it, i don't doubt that you will be left with the feeling that you have just had a once-in-a-lifetime reading experience, and that you are a better person for it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    By about page 200, this was firmly in my top 10 fave books. By the end, it seemed to me like a clear-cut canonical biggie (eg, Moby Dick, Infinite Jest, 2666, Ulysses), but better natured than these -- also, it didn't seem like much of a chip was trying to be knocked off the authorial shoulder. Joyce took on Shakespeare, DFW tried to depose the postmodernist phallocracy, but Perec seems more at peace. It's like Beckett's sucking stones section in Molloy: elaborate, infinitely detailed processes By about page 200, this was firmly in my top 10 fave books. By the end, it seemed to me like a clear-cut canonical biggie (eg, Moby Dick, Infinite Jest, 2666, Ulysses), but better natured than these -- also, it didn't seem like much of a chip was trying to be knocked off the authorial shoulder. Joyce took on Shakespeare, DFW tried to depose the postmodernist phallocracy, but Perec seems more at peace. It's like Beckett's sucking stones section in Molloy: elaborate, infinitely detailed processes eventually reduced to nothing, but not with semi-suspicious "creative writing 101" poignancy -- here it's a celebration of the word in this book's title. Not much dialogue, mostly summarized scenes, short chapters, stories within stories within stories, a cast of hundreds. The Bartlebooth section, even if published alone, probably would have won the author the Nobel Prize if he'd lived into his sixties. Highly recommended to people who like to read, especially those readers into towering literary artistry (ie, audacious, original, extraordinarily well-executed, life-affirming, good-natured, inspiring masterpieces).

  6. 5 out of 5

    Chris_P

    Life: A User's Manual I seek the eternal and the ephemeral Having just closed the book, I feel a bunch of things. Perec captures a certain moment in time in the lives of the residents of a certain building and gives us the most detailed description of this snapshot. Lists upon lists and descriptions upon descriptions of apartments, rooms, people, paintings and objects that compose this moment which, as is the case with all moments, doesn't consist only of present elements, but also ones that belon Life: A User's Manual I seek the eternal and the ephemeral Having just closed the book, I feel a bunch of things. Perec captures a certain moment in time in the lives of the residents of a certain building and gives us the most detailed description of this snapshot. Lists upon lists and descriptions upon descriptions of apartments, rooms, people, paintings and objects that compose this moment which, as is the case with all moments, doesn't consist only of present elements, but also ones that belong to the past. So, what this book really is, is a kaleidoscope of every possible thing, every possible story that is part of the snapshot. It's not a book to pass the time with. It demands the reader's full attention and devotion. Going back and forth through the pages in order to not lose grip of the multitude of names and storylines, I felt I was having the fullest reading experience ever imaginable. Even so, I think it's impossible for one to discover all the "surprises" (see easter eggs) Perec has hidden in his text and if it hadn't been for Achilleas Kyriakidis' afterword -whose work in translating the book is a major accomplishment in itself-, I would have missed even more of them. I don't think words can do this book justice. It's a book one has to read in order for one to understand its uniqueness and majesty. Trying to talk about it is like a blind man trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle. Nihilistic and optimistic in its own way, Life: A User's Manual is likely to stay in your mind for a long time. Italo Calvino called it the final major event in world literature. I don't know about it being the final, but it's certainly one of the most significant works of literature ever created. Important Note: Best read with a cat on your lap or at least somewhere nearby.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mala

    Recommended for: Readers looking for something 'DIFFERENT'. Georges Perce brought his multifaceted* talent to this amazing book Life A User’s Manual . Nine years in the making, it won him the Prix Médicis & a solid international credential. An offbeat, quirky tale, its cumulative effect is staggering! Approach its playful inventiveness appreciatively & it'll prove to be a rewarding read. Feel bogged down by its endless lists of objects & paraphernalia, and you won't make much headway. Recommended for: Readers looking for something 'DIFFERENT'. Georges Perce brought his multifaceted* talent to this amazing book Life A User’s Manual . Nine years in the making, it won him the Prix Médicis & a solid international credential. An offbeat, quirky tale, its cumulative effect is staggering! Approach its playful inventiveness appreciatively & it'll prove to be a rewarding read. Feel bogged down by its endless lists of objects & paraphernalia, and you won't make much headway. An Oulipian Marvel– Perec has created here an intriguing puzzle– written under constraints, it's a fitting tribute to Raymond Queneau, the grand master of the Oulipian school of writing. From the wiki : "Perec also wrote Life A User's Manual using the Knight's Tour method of construction. The book is set in a fictional Parisian block of flats, where Perec devises the elevation of the building as a 10×10 grid: 10 storeys, including basements and attics and 10 rooms across, including 2 for the stairwell. Each room is assigned to a chapter, and the order of the chapters is given by the knight's moves on the grid." Here's a visual of the 42 constraints' grid The Architext* – While a knight's tour is a solitary game, the art of jigsaw puzzling is not! The latter calls for an active author-reader relationship–the epigraph taken from Jules Verne, says: "Look with all your eyes, look", 'cause "every move the puzzler makes, the puzzle-maker has made before; every piece the puzzler picks up, and picks up again, and studies and strokes, every combination he tries, and tries a second time, every blunder and every insight, each hope and each discouragement have all been designed, calculated, and decided by the other." "What makes LAUM an exemplary architext is "its almost complete interpenetration of theme and structure, so that to describe one is to describe the other", the novel is "set" in an apartment building on Rue Simon-Crubellier (but as we read on, we realise) that the book is the apartment building itself. According to Perec, the novel was partly inspired by a Saul Steinberg drawing of a New York rooming house with its facade removed (...), Perec writes, the "mere inventory– and it could never be exhaustive–of the items of furniture and the actions represented has something truly vertiginous about it" (...) (The map provided in the book) obscures as much as it reveals,for its erasure of the wall divisions within each apartment belies the fact that the building has a total of hundred rooms. Its elongated, rectangular form also disguises another crucial aspect of the book's architecture: when made square and superimposed upon the rectilinear grid of an architectural floor plan, Perec's original plan begins to resemble an enlarged ten-by-ten chessboard.(...)While the knight's tour is mapped out for the reader(...) each room visited can be placed, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, back within the frame of the building's architectural floor plan." The Lives of Others : Perec satisfies the voyeur in us: we are always interested in the lives of others. LAUM is constructed as a huge diorama, giving us a panoramic view of the lives of all the residents of 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier: "Sometimes Valène had the feeling that time had been stopped, suspended, frozen around he didn’t know what expectation. The very idea of the picture he planned to do and whose laid-out, broken-up images had begun to haunt every second of his life, furnishing his dreams, squeezing his memories, the very idea of this shattered building laying bare the cracks of its past, the crumbling of its present, this unordered amassing of stories grandiose and trivial, frivolous and pathetic, gave him the impression of a grotesque mausoleum raised in the memory of companions petrified in terminal postures as insignificant in their solemnity as they were in their ordinariness, as if he had wanted both to warn of and to delay these slow or quick deaths which seemed to be engulfing the entire building storey by storey." The plot covers one day, nay, a single moment, in the lives of these people, frozen in time –something momentous has occured here but we don't know that yet. The flâneur-like narrator takes us on a tour of this building, room by room, place by place, using a knight's move on the chessboard. Perec brilliantly employs flashback & flash-forwarding techniques to cover in a single day, hundred years of history! – in the manner of Arabian Nights & Ovid's Metamorphoses, stories lead to stories & even more stories, thus effectively overcoming constraints of time & place. Lives intersect, sometimes casually, sometimes to damaging/lasting effect. The tenants come from different national/ethnic & socio-economic groups– the house thus becomes a microcosm of the world-at-large. Objects, objects everywhere, not a clue to be seen! These objectives are achieved through a perusal of objects & the characters' personal histories. The objects provide the setting & help us understand the kinds of people who live/lived there. In a way, imbued with history & emotions, they seem to have assumed a life of their own, & like the entertainment cartridge in Infinite Jest, the puzzle/mystery in Life A User's Manual, becomes a mad chase towards various objects with which this book's universe is cluttered– but just as IJ is infinitely more than the search for that elusive object, LAUM too is ultimately a human drama played out on a vast scale. Sometimes, the objects are like bread crumbs leaving a trail ( which might as well turn out to be a false one!)– in order to arrive at the heart of the story, ultimately, you'll have to look beyond them. A Faustian Bargain – Perec could've called Bartlebooth, Ahab, but that would've been too obvious- he settled for Bartle(by)booth. Most of the characters here are having projects of one kind or another & eventually they all end in failures. The defeats are crushing, the victories small & ephemeral–so much so, that one is tempted to call it Life A Loser's Manual ! "There is a lot of loss in this book - lost love, lost fortunes, lost jobs, lost lives, lost hope - and what is probably the biggest loss in the book, the loss of time and evidence of existence represented by Bartlebooth's project (...) France, along with most of Europe, was torn asunder by that (world) war, split between the resistors, the collaborators, and the the not-sure-what-to-dos. In 1975, these survivors and the effects of those years were still fresh enough to account for the atmosphere found at 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier. (...)And so there is a certain pall that hung over the France of those years, and though Perec might not emphasize it too directly, there's no way his work or his characters can escape the reality of those times. There is a gravity in Perec that comes from a deep and heavy place. I don't want to project too much, but the general scarcity of joyous and humorous moments and silver linings and so on must have history as its source. In my edition, there is a short disclaimer from Perec right after the Contents that reads: "Friendship, history, and literature have supplied me with some of the characters of this book. All other resemblances to living persons or to people having lived in reality or fiction can only be coincidental." Normally, I would dismiss this as a legal requirement of the business world, but in this case, I read it as Perec acknowledging that this fiction is based on lives lived and events lived through - the good, bad, and mundane days of each of these individuals making up the mini-cosmos of the apartment building. Each of these individual stories could have taken place in any time and place - adjusted for cultural details, of course - making this more and more of a "User's Manual" for human life as each chapter rolls by.*" Like Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, Perec has also immortalised in words, the teeming common life– their mundane, everyday concerns, their joys & sorrows, "absence of completeness, absence of perfection". And like Proust, Perec too has immersed himself in retrieving memories: "He tried to resuscitate those imperceptible details which over the course of fifty-five years had woven the life of this house and which the years had unpicked one by one: the impeccably polished linoleum floors on which you were only allowed to walk in felt undershoes, the oiled canvas tablecloths with red and green stripes on which mother and daughter shelled peas; the dishstands that clipped together, the white porcelain counterpoise light that you could flick back up with one finger at the end of dinner; evenings by the wireless set, with the man in a flannel jacket, the woman in a flowery apron, and the slumbering cat rolled up in a ball by the fireplace; children in clogs going down for the milk with dented cans; the big old wood-stoves of which you would collect up the ashes in spread-out sheets of old newspaper …Where were they now, the Van Houten cocoa tins, the Banania cartons with the laughing infantryman, the turned-wood boxes of Madeleine biscuits from Commercy? " 5 shining stars for the genius, the madness, and the chutzpah! Ultimately, it's about life in all its variegated forms. A sadness permeates this celebration of life, still it's a celebration, let there be no doubt about that. A series of parables that teach us to laugh through our tears, for such is life! References: *1) "He composed acrostics, anagrams, autobiography, criticism, crosswords, descriptions of dreams, film scripts, heterograms, lipograms, memories, palindromes, plays, poetry, radio plays, recipes, riddles, stories short and long, travel notes, univocalics, and, of course, novels."( From the author intro) *2) Constructing the Architext: Georges Perec's Life,A User's Manual by Peta Mitchell. *3) This review is dedicated to Jim – at Brain Pain, for the invaluable insights he brought to this read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    T for Tongue-tied

    How indescribably beautiful this book is. Snuggled up to meticulously painted worlds full of dazzling colours and smells, my overwhelmed, word-saturated head spins violently while my heart gives quiet love to every little detail - statuettes, watercolours, books, ancient coins, gramophones, whispering silks and engraved chests - every understated picture of what remains after everything has been lost. I had never known such silence - the hushed memory of faded lives and their stories, freeze-fra How indescribably beautiful this book is. Snuggled up to meticulously painted worlds full of dazzling colours and smells, my overwhelmed, word-saturated head spins violently while my heart gives quiet love to every little detail - statuettes, watercolours, books, ancient coins, gramophones, whispering silks and engraved chests - every understated picture of what remains after everything has been lost. I had never known such silence - the hushed memory of faded lives and their stories, freeze-framed in their latest, so often grotesque poses... And my beloved Jan Kjærstad comes to my mind again - how do these pieces fit together? How does a person become a conqueror of the most impossible worlds that have ability to both elate and bring you down to your knees with their terrifying beauty?... “I want the thought of me to comfort you, not consume you; to console you, not drive you to despair”, says Laetizia to Hébert. This book brings so much more than just comfort and consolation of an exquisite read - it leaves you breathless, light-headed and, at times, defeated. It feels like love. There’s something incredibly graceful in this meandering labyrinth whose paths endlessly lure, challenge and deceive you. Not so many books can offer such a wild alternation of excitement and passivity, of febrile expectancy and numbing certainties. Every tiny tension, micro-conflict, allusion, implication, mind-boggling reference - they all make you feel both exhilarated and exhausted, just like Bartlebooth felt when he was spending long hours trying to put his jigsaw puzzles together: hundreds of pieces of identical blue with infinitesimal variations, each one relying more on luck and coincidence than concentration and intellectual prerequisite. But once you’ve gone through the ecstasy and exasperation, you reach a kind of equilibrium, a receptive and supple mind, an attentiveness to the monstrosity of burgeoning details that calmingly disengages you from your own reality. No, it’s not an easy read. Towards the end, I was losing my mind just like Bartlebooth was losing his eyesight. But high art and kitsch are as inseparable as identical twins and this book offers an incredible blend of bygone charm and sentimentality. Oblivion is inevitable, nothing was ever made to last. But there are moments in time that can be saved from being lost forever and, insignificant as we are, we all play little roles in preserving what is so generously granted to us every day - our unique, undeniable here and now. And if the last piece of the puzzle does not fit in and the empty space laughs sarcastically in our face, then at least we will have and bequeath the memory of the path that we paved with every day of our life: the greatest, most intriguing and beautiful puzzle of all.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nick Craske

    George Perec’s novel was published in French in 1978 and first published in English in 1987. This could not have been an easy assignment for the translator. The opening quotation, 'Look with all your eyes, look.’ —quoting Jules Verne— is both an allusion to the wonder of both deciphering how we see the world and how we remember what we have seen. Or think we have seen... This glorious, delectable visual feast of a novel, is constructed in the manner of an elaborate jigsaw puzzle. Perec’s canvas an George Perec’s novel was published in French in 1978 and first published in English in 1987. This could not have been an easy assignment for the translator. The opening quotation, 'Look with all your eyes, look.’ —quoting Jules Verne— is both an allusion to the wonder of both deciphering how we see the world and how we remember what we have seen. Or think we have seen... This glorious, delectable visual feast of a novel, is constructed in the manner of an elaborate jigsaw puzzle. Perec’s canvas and construct is a single Parisian apartment building and across 99 episodic chapters he describes in meticulous and often intricate detail each and every room. And we the viewer are transplanted from apartment-to-apartment (if one were to view the building front on like a Chess board) via a single knight's move. A knight moves two squares parallel to one side of the board and one square parallel to the other side. Any such move always takes the knight to a square of the opposite colour. In 99 moves the knight can move across every square on the board... Ostensibly, as we traverse the building and the matrix of descriptive details within, we are watching the creation of a painting by Serge Valene, an old artist who has lived in the building for 55 years. A novel of such intense descriptive writing, you might think, would collapse in on itself under relentless documenting of detail. The opposite is true, for Perec also expresses the humanity in the heartfelt life stories —through the ages— of every inhabitant of the building. This array of ornate detail serves to amplify each person's story. The macro details lead us down into the elliptical narratives of each inhabitant in sweeping cinematic style: through elaborate vintage keyholes, ascending up into antique chandeliers to look down upon classical sheet music atop a rare Steinway piano to traverse the musical staves and begin learning of the history of each note’s inscription and the hand that wrote them; and the train they were on; and the train passenger’s neighbour’s hat… and the story behind the hat maker… and on, and up and diagonally across… through time and memory... from apartment-to-apartment... piece-by-piece… the jigsaw... the picture... Life: A User's Manual can be read as a parable about the efforts of the human mind to impose an arbitrary order on the world. Or a meditation on memory... even the act of writing itself. This is a glorious book in both its inventive structure and its rich visual descriptions.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    A pre-review This big novel has been on my (physical) shelf for years, it feels almost indecent to pick it up and actually begin it. Especially when I don't think I'll like it. Which is a shame, because I like the idea of Georges Perec, and I like the photo of him in the front here. I like the cut of his jib. He has a cat on his shoulder. So, I'll give it 100 pages. Then I expect I'll say something like: Georges Perec is the larval stage of the French whimsy which became the butterfly of Jean-Pie A pre-review This big novel has been on my (physical) shelf for years, it feels almost indecent to pick it up and actually begin it. Especially when I don't think I'll like it. Which is a shame, because I like the idea of Georges Perec, and I like the photo of him in the front here. I like the cut of his jib. He has a cat on his shoulder. So, I'll give it 100 pages. Then I expect I'll say something like: Georges Perec is the larval stage of the French whimsy which became the butterfly of Jean-Pierre Jeunot, who brought the interconnected magical-puzzle aspects of life to - er - life in his great movie comedies Delicatessen (the dark version) and Amelie (the light version) and Micmacs (the crazy revenge fantasy version). *** update : yes, I thought so.

  11. 4 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    List of items in my bathroom: abacus, bouzouki once strummed by Warren Ellis, cauliflowers in brocade, Dungeons & Dragoons strategy wargame for Windows ’95, elf ears, Farsi medical dictionary, gorgonzola, Hunter S. Thompson commemorative pineapple, inkwell, Jenga set, knitting needle made from yarn, Lemsip in cherry and chocolate flavours, mangle, nachos, octopus-patterned duvet cover, Peter Andre poster circa Mysterious Girl, quicksand, rum, salsa shoes, Total Recall 4-DVD set, Ulysses in E List of items in my bathroom: abacus, bouzouki once strummed by Warren Ellis, cauliflowers in brocade, Dungeons & Dragoons strategy wargame for Windows ’95, elf ears, Farsi medical dictionary, gorgonzola, Hunter S. Thompson commemorative pineapple, inkwell, Jenga set, knitting needle made from yarn, Lemsip in cherry and chocolate flavours, mangle, nachos, octopus-patterned duvet cover, Peter Andre poster circa Mysterious Girl, quicksand, rum, salsa shoes, Total Recall 4-DVD set, Ulysses in Everyman’s Library hardback, voles, wisteria, yarmulke, zebra named Francine Prose. Reader reactions to this list: astounding apathy, broken bladder, cauterised callipers, damaged dingbats, execrated excrement, futzed forceps, grazed gnocchi, hurt hamstrings, injured ionosphere, jerked jew’s harp, kinked knee, licked lemon, mangled mangle, nastied nipples, ouched ostriches, pricked pips, quacked quays, ripped rumps, singed songsheets, touched tympani, undergone uvula, vuvvered vuvvers, wankered wimps, yooplop yimplam, zingzam zoomsung, etc, repeat for whole book but with French eccentrics and whimsical bourgeois.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    Sometimes you read a book at the perfect time. This is simultaneously the perfect book for winter binge reading and also the perfect book for fifteen minutes bus rides at the beginning and end of the day. One could argue that there is some overarching/subterranean narrative tying this whole behemoth of a novel together - people grab onto the Bartlebooth saga with the jigsaw puzzles and the landscape water colors - but in truth this book is a compendium of wide-ranging stories all containing some Sometimes you read a book at the perfect time. This is simultaneously the perfect book for winter binge reading and also the perfect book for fifteen minutes bus rides at the beginning and end of the day. One could argue that there is some overarching/subterranean narrative tying this whole behemoth of a novel together - people grab onto the Bartlebooth saga with the jigsaw puzzles and the landscape water colors - but in truth this book is a compendium of wide-ranging stories all containing some varying kernel of truth concerning the collective human experience. There's an index in the back of my volume of this book of just some of the innumerable stories contained therein. Upon perusing the index it's hard for me to imagine anyone coming away with a clear sense of exactly what this book is about (The Tale of the acrobat who did not want to get off his trapeze ever again, the Tale of the Designer who had to dismantle the kitchen he was so proud of, the Tale of the Hampster deprived of his favourite game, the Tale of the Lord who hid his secret passions beneath sham crazes, the Man who bought the Vase of the Passion, the Thrice-Murdered Jeweller....) You'd think this all would be too much but, despite the scattered variety - a veritable freakshow - the novel feels whole and every character and every story seems to have found its place. This is not entirely due to the elaborate apartment block schema which so many other reviewers have shed immensely useful light on. It also has to do with the consistency of Perec's voice, filled with compassion for the vagaries of human life and a curiosity about all of the things of the world. Throw on top of all of this the innumerable references to Perec's literary favorites littered through the book, we have something that is hard to put down. Apparently, every chapter has both a direct and veiled reference to or quotation of one of approximately twenty authors, including crowd favorites such as Joyce, Borges, Proust, and Kafka. (For a useful user's manual to Life a User's Manual visit: http://escarbille.free.fr/vme/?lmn=3) I thought it would be fascinating to map out all of the hidden references in the novel - sort of like assembling a bunch of completely white jigsaw puzzles for the thrill of it. I gave it a shot figuring that I would have the best chance of picking up on either the Kafka or the Nabokov allusions. I quickly became exhausted though I did have a little success. For example, from the above site I learned that Chapter 69 contained some form of hidden Nabokov reference, so I took up the very Nabokovian task of discerning that hidden reference with my bare hands and a large stack of Nabokov sitting nearby. This first one was pretty easy, I opened to Chapter 69 and (bam!) right in the middle of the page is a diagram of a chess problem. In my mind that alone would have sufficed as evidence of a hidden Nabokov reference - but I kept digging anyway for the fun of it. A couple paragraphs in Perec describes in detail three pictures hanging on a wall (not the first or last time this happens). The second is by the American artist Organ Trapp - hmm Trapp, I've seen that name before, doesn't Humbert Humbert have some distant relative named Trapp who looks strikingly like Quilty? Humbert remembers this relative one day when he notices a man in his rear-view mirror following in a car behind him as he and Lolita make their escape across the country. The picture described by Perec depicts a gas station in Wyoming so we're definitely narrowing in on the road-trip chapters of Lolita where Nabokov really drums up his best roadside Americana. Perec lists the details of the gas station: "a green garbage can, very black, very whitewalled tyres for sale, bright cans of motor oil, a red icebox with assorted drinks." That rainbow of assorted junk has to be Nabokov. I got lucky on this one and knew roughly where to turn in Lolita and found the exact phrase about two pages into the 16th chapter of Part Two. My luck sort of ended there and I resorted to just googling particularly colorful passages in the other chapters I knew were supposed to contain Nabokov references. I scoured through chapter 28 for a while since that is the first of the Nabokov chapters. A little snippet caught my eye, set off in italics at the bottom of a page - bleak walls, vacant eye-like windows. I threw this into my search bar and, lo and behold, a hit, but not what I am looking for. Turns out this little ditty comes from Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher." Poe isn't even on the cheat sheet chart! This is just a bonus Perec threw in for lonely little enchanted reference hunters like myself. It's easy for me to get carried away with this sort of thing. I'd like to think that the social power of goodreads could somehow manage to unearth all of these little hidden gems and collect them all in one space because that would be awesome. If you have stumbled across any of the other hidden literary allusions let me know! Anyway, this is a great book and it is amazing how Perec managed to pack in so much stuff (the references, the Knight's tour schema, etc) and still somehow manage to create and tie together so many far-flung and interesting stories about people who all lived in the same apartment block in Paris during one moment in time.

  13. 4 out of 5

    knig

    I used to be able to file a book without a rating: what happened? I don't want to give this book one or any stars: its not that its a bad book, its just not for me. I never liked Gabriel Garcia's 100 years nor Robert Altman's Short Cuts: the formula just doesn't do it for me: I can't take multiple narrative threads, hundreds of characters, all running around hither and thither like headless chickens till it does my head in and I don't know whats what, objects and stories and protags multiplying I used to be able to file a book without a rating: what happened? I don't want to give this book one or any stars: its not that its a bad book, its just not for me. I never liked Gabriel Garcia's 100 years nor Robert Altman's Short Cuts: the formula just doesn't do it for me: I can't take multiple narrative threads, hundreds of characters, all running around hither and thither like headless chickens till it does my head in and I don't know whats what, objects and stories and protags multiplying like a bad case of clap, nothing interconnects properly and you need a site map of whos who and his cat. Sheesh. I'm a bread and butter kind of girl, gots to pass on the narrative gourmet on offer here: theres too many dips to dunk.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    Life: A User's Manual is the absolute and fundamental treatise on the theme of jigsaw puzzles where every chapter is a piece in a puzzle – a fragment of a house, a tessera of the cosmic mosaic. “The room’s walls are painted in white gloss. Several framed posters are hanging on them. One of them depicts four greedy-looking monks sitting at table around a Camembert cheese on the label of which four greedy-looking monks – the very same – are again at table around, etc. The scene is repeated distinct Life: A User's Manual is the absolute and fundamental treatise on the theme of jigsaw puzzles where every chapter is a piece in a puzzle – a fragment of a house, a tessera of the cosmic mosaic. “The room’s walls are painted in white gloss. Several framed posters are hanging on them. One of them depicts four greedy-looking monks sitting at table around a Camembert cheese on the label of which four greedy-looking monks – the very same – are again at table around, etc. The scene is repeated distinctly four times over.” Infinity: stairs and rooms, furniture and articles, pictures inside pictures, stories within stories, epistles, fables, lists of anything that can ever be listed, tableaux vivants and still lives constructed out of words… “To begin with, the art of jigsaw puzzles seems of little substance, easily exhausted, wholly dealt with by a basic introduction to Gestalt: the perceived object – we may be dealing with a perceptual act, the acquisition of a skill, a physiological system, or, as in the present case, a wooden jigsaw puzzle – is not a sum of elements to be distinguished from each other and analysed discretely, but a pattern, that is to say a form, a structure: the element’s existence does not precede the existence of the whole, it comes neither before nor after it, for the parts do not determine the pattern, but the pattern determines the parts: knowledge of the pattern and of its laws, of the set and its structure, could not possibly be derived from discrete knowledge of the elements that compose it.” The whole is always more than the simple sum of its parts and by this metaphysical law the tiny and miscellaneous elements of narration finally add up into the extravagant encyclopedia of life and art and fate.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Teresa Proença

    "Procuro ao mesmo tempo o eterno e o efémero." No dia 23 de Junho de 1975, às 8 horas da noite, entrei no prédio a que corresponde o número 11 da Rua Simon-Crubellier em Paris. Observei salas, cozinhas, quartos, caves, e vi espaços e vidas de centenas de pessoas que de, alguma forma, estão ligadas umas às outras como se as suas vidas fossem um puzzle gigante composto de belas, infinitas e minúsculas peças. Encantei-me, emocionei-me, deslumbrei-me, com as mais de 100 histórias de mais de 1000 pess "Procuro ao mesmo tempo o eterno e o efémero." No dia 23 de Junho de 1975, às 8 horas da noite, entrei no prédio a que corresponde o número 11 da Rua Simon-Crubellier em Paris. Observei salas, cozinhas, quartos, caves, e vi espaços e vidas de centenas de pessoas que de, alguma forma, estão ligadas umas às outras como se as suas vidas fossem um puzzle gigante composto de belas, infinitas e minúsculas peças. Encantei-me, emocionei-me, deslumbrei-me, com as mais de 100 histórias de mais de 1000 pessoas que vivem nestas páginas. E enamorei-me de Bartlebooth e do seu fabuloso projecto de vida... Não é uma leitura fácil; praticamente não tem diálogos, sendo sustentada pela narrativa e observação de pequenos pormenores. Quase diria que é um livro mais para ver do que para ler. É um romance complexo, original, rico, excessivo, impossível de descrever. Que me deixou a pensar na Vida e no modo de a usar...que é sem modo, pois mesmo que façamos um desenho perfeito, pintado de lindas cores, surge sempre algo ou alguém que nos baralha as peças e somos forçados a começar de novo e de novo, enquanto pudermos... (Saul Steinberg, The Art of Living) "O olhar segue os caminhos que lhe foram preparados na obra.", Paul Klee

  16. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Let’s be clear from the outset, ‘Life a User’s Manual’ is my favourite book book of all time. It's everything a novel should or ever could be. Big characters, ripping yarns, wonderful descriptions, word play, structural experimentation and a sad truth at its heart... It’s an existentialist work, in essence, tempered by its humanitarian outlook, but a book nonetheless about the pointlessness of human endeavour. The labours of the many characters contained here generally come to naught. And it’s a Let’s be clear from the outset, ‘Life a User’s Manual’ is my favourite book book of all time. It's everything a novel should or ever could be. Big characters, ripping yarns, wonderful descriptions, word play, structural experimentation and a sad truth at its heart... It’s an existentialist work, in essence, tempered by its humanitarian outlook, but a book nonetheless about the pointlessness of human endeavour. The labours of the many characters contained here generally come to naught. And it’s a book about entropy. At its core is the tale of Bartlebooth, his project of a lifetime and those whose services he enlists to enable him to bring about its completion. As a young man with a private income, he conceives a fifty year plan to fill his days: ten years to become a watercolourist, twenty years travelling the world to paint five hundred harbour scenes, twenty years to complete the jigsaw puzzles he will have made from them. Entropy enters when each re-assembled seascape is glued back together then rinsed of its colour and returned to a blank sheet of paper. Entropy ripples out from Bartlebooth, from the pointlessness of his life’s work to the retinue he employs. Winckler is the jigsaw-maker who turns Bartlebooth’s paintings into puzzles. Thirty years in, with his part in the plan complete, Winckler must fill his days too. A prodigiously gifted craftsman, he wastes away his time making devil’s rings then witch’s mirrors, until at last housebound, he re-arranges the collection of hotel labels Bartlebooth’s butler, Smautf, has sent him. “It’s not just hard… it’s useless,” he comments. Morrelet, whose job it is to glue the jigsaws back together, claims to have worked in many capacities previously. When he loses three fingers in an experiment and can no longer work for Bartlebooth, he carries out experiments to make remedies, none of which work. The highlight now of his and Winckler’s day is the belligerent game of Backgammon they contest at Riri’s café-tabac. As far as possible, Bartlebooth seeks to install his helpers in the apartment building where he lives. And so, arguably, 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier is the novel’s other principal character. Valène is the artist who teaches Bartlebooth to paint. He is also Perec’s conduit, to an extent. He conceives of a painting that will show all of the rooms at the front of No. 11, a sort of cutaway revealing the lives of the residents therein. And this is what Perec seeks to achieve in the novel, succeeding spectacularly, in my view. It seems that while entropy affects its inhabitants, the building is immune – the Plassaerts buy Morrelet’s apartment to improve their pied-a-terre, Winckler’s apartment is about to be renovated as a des-res… But Valène moves from his reflection on removal men and undertakers to imagining the building’s eventual demolition to make way for a vast residential/commercial development with no trace remaining. In the end, everything returns to dust. Cinoc is another cypher for Perec. No one knows how to pronounce his surname (in the absence of diacritics) and he works for Larousse, keeping dictionaries/encyclopaedias up to date by “killing” words rather than looking for neologisms, consigning entries to oblivion/extinction. Thus his life’s work is the inverse of Bartlebooth’s, and by extension that of Perec. He starts with encyclopaedia entries, spending 53 years erasing them, then spends ten years going through old books compiling 8000 potential entries of lost esoterica for a “dictionary of forgotten words”. The story of Carel van Loorens seems, to me, emblematic of the intertextuality at work within the novel. It’s a digression that has nothing to do with No. 11 and its story. It just so happens that a boy is reading Loorens’ biography on the stairs. It tips the nod to Calvino, having van Loorens tell his Barbary pirate host, Hokab el-Ouakt, about the cities he has visited in return for his hospitality in his palace. It’s a ripping yarn set in Arabia, reminiscent of ‘The 1001 Arabian Nights’, which of course ‘Life a User’s Manual’ resembles. Fans of the book like to list their favourite digressions. Why should I be an exception? So among others, there’s Blunt Stanley, Ingeborg Skrifter and the 83 appearances of Mephisto; the anthropologist, Marcel Appenzzell, and his doomed quest to live with the Orang-Kubu; the diplomat, Sven Ericsson, and his all-consuming thirst for revenge on Elizabeth de Beaumont; the acrobat who wouldn’t come down from his perch (The Baron on Trapeze?); Carel van Loorens seeking to rescue Ursula von Littau from the harem of the Barbary pirate, Hokab el-Ouakt. These tales are forever mirroring one another, casting their mutual light and reflecting the author’s project and the methods he employs. Sometimes it’s hard to articulate why a book resonates with you so much. For me, it’s the vast reach of the imagination at work here and the depth of its creativity, the extent to which Perec realises his imaginary world, his vaulting ambition. There’s the humour and also its humanity and human insights. Then there’s the brilliance of the storytelling – and some of the digressions are fantastic in both senses – and the evocation of place. The story behind its construction - the knight’s tour and so on - adds another layer of enjoyment. It’s hard not to feel put out when others dismiss a book you value, or in this case, value most of all. And so I understand the indignation of admirers when they see ‘Kafka on the Shore’, say, or ‘Lord of the Rings’ under attack, even though I have little time for either book. Yes, the relentless microscopic descriptions in ‘Life a User’s Manual’ can sometimes be boring and there are so many characters that it’s sometimes difficult to remember who’s who… It can appear pedantic and obscure. Word of the book is undoubtedly “heteroclite”. Its use once in an oeuvre would be enough, but three times in one novel? And some of the punning isn’t funny at all, but I suspect this is a reflection of the difficulties of translation. ‘Life a User’s Manual’ can be seen as a novella about Bartlebooth and his project with an essentially unrelated series of short stories and apartment descriptions bolted on. But since the book is also the story of the building, it coheres. And after all, Perec subtitles his work ‘Novels’ or ‘Fictions’, depending on your chosen translation. Overall, it’s a towering achievement, a Santa’s grotto full of treats to which you can return time and again, never exhausting its possibilities. RIP, GP.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    This was a very original book. 99 chapters, each containing something else. You can practically read this book starting with what chapter you want and then go in a random fashion and it won't be a problem. The descriptions of Perec are almost photographic, they really challenge your power of imagination. He starts at the door and then goes deep and describes something written in a book which is shown in a photograph held by a guy who is in a painting. Something like that. The characters of Perec This was a very original book. 99 chapters, each containing something else. You can practically read this book starting with what chapter you want and then go in a random fashion and it won't be a problem. The descriptions of Perec are almost photographic, they really challenge your power of imagination. He starts at the door and then goes deep and describes something written in a book which is shown in a photograph held by a guy who is in a painting. Something like that. The characters of Perec stay with you, their stories and lives. It was very interesting to read it, the stories are nice and well written. But I give 4 stars because somehow in the end it kinda lost me. I read the last 100 pages superficially because I wanted to get over with it. As I said, very very original !I am glad I read it. It is said that Paul Auster is a big fan. Well, he might learn something from Perec. Perec has a lot of imagination, Auster doesn't !

  18. 4 out of 5

    George Spirakis

    Μπορείς μόνο να διαβάσεις, να αφεθείς στο κείμενο και να μπεις στη ζωή μιας πολυκατοικίας, των ενοίκων, των προηγούμενων ενοίκων, των ανθρώπων που κρύβονται στις ιστορίες τους, στα αντικείμενα που τυχαία υπάρχουν αλλά κρύβουν στιγμές ζωής, στα όσα θέλησαν να κάνουν και δεν πρόλαβαν, σε εκείνα που τελικά έκαναν αλλά μετάνοιωσαν, στη γλυκιά θλίψη που τα ενώνει στο τέλος, στην ατέρμονη περιγραφική αφήγηση που σε μαγεύει, στο γεγονός ότι ένας μόνο άνθρωπος μπορεί να φανταστεί τόσα, γνωρίζει τόσα, το Μπορείς μόνο να διαβάσεις, να αφεθείς στο κείμενο και να μπεις στη ζωή μιας πολυκατοικίας, των ενοίκων, των προηγούμενων ενοίκων, των ανθρώπων που κρύβονται στις ιστορίες τους, στα αντικείμενα που τυχαία υπάρχουν αλλά κρύβουν στιγμές ζωής, στα όσα θέλησαν να κάνουν και δεν πρόλαβαν, σε εκείνα που τελικά έκαναν αλλά μετάνοιωσαν, στη γλυκιά θλίψη που τα ενώνει στο τέλος, στην ατέρμονη περιγραφική αφήγηση που σε μαγεύει, στο γεγονός ότι ένας μόνο άνθρωπος μπορεί να φανταστεί τόσα, γνωρίζει τόσα, τολμά τόσα, έχει τον τρόπο να ξεκλειδώσει τόσα και... αυτό το παζλ δεν τελειώνει ποτέ. Σαν τη ζωή ένα πράγμα. MAXMAG: https://www.maxmag.gr/book/zoi-pazl/

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    Many people misinterpret nihilism as only a negative or cynical approach to life and to the cosmos. But with "Life: A User's Manual" (LAUM) I sense that Georges Perec is approaching nihilism as a very positive, creative force of being. LAUM accepts our essential nothingness, but revels in the process that takes place between the birth nothing and the death nothing. We are able to exercise an exuberant free will, bouncing around within the framework of those two framing events of birth and death Many people misinterpret nihilism as only a negative or cynical approach to life and to the cosmos. But with "Life: A User's Manual" (LAUM) I sense that Georges Perec is approaching nihilism as a very positive, creative force of being. LAUM accepts our essential nothingness, but revels in the process that takes place between the birth nothing and the death nothing. We are able to exercise an exuberant free will, bouncing around within the framework of those two framing events of birth and death to create puzzles and layers and collections. (The basement of LUAM as subconscious, populating our self, which is essentially nothing, with survival gear, food, not for, but of thought.) Go places, paint a picture, adhere the picture to wood, cut it apart into a puzzle, assemble the puzzle, reconstitute the puzzle into a whole and make it as perfect as to be unknown as ever having been a puzzle, then finally, dissolve the painting until there is no evidence of the painting. Nothing to nothing is very much something. It seems that the book itself is a still life of the building. I wish I could paint so that I could take a decade to illustrate the details of the building. From LAUM: "In other words, Bartlebooth resolved one day that his whole life would be organised around a single project, an arbitrarily constrained programme with no purpose outside its own completion. The idea occurred to him when he was twenty. At first it was only a vague idea, a question looming—what should I do?—with an answer taking shape: nothing."

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    Simultaneously so massive and yet so minute, allow a quick consulting of your Anti-Oedipus and then bring this to resolution. This novel brought considerable warmth and a curious attention to matters. Much like black bean hummus. Don't eat this book. Such requires a chuckle as I type.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    Now, I loved this book so why don't I recommend it to everyone? Let me try to tell you - this is a book about the people who live (or have lived) in an appartment building in Paris in the 20th century. Their lives and stories twist and tangle and intertwine and breaks up again. Every part of the book is valued equal - that means, that a chaper can be a list of objects found on the staircase and another - just as important! - chapter can be the story of how the daughter of one of the residents go Now, I loved this book so why don't I recommend it to everyone? Let me try to tell you - this is a book about the people who live (or have lived) in an appartment building in Paris in the 20th century. Their lives and stories twist and tangle and intertwine and breaks up again. Every part of the book is valued equal - that means, that a chaper can be a list of objects found on the staircase and another - just as important! - chapter can be the story of how the daughter of one of the residents got murdered, who did it and why. One of these stories that goes through the entire book is about Bartlebooth and his puzzles and the book talks quite a bit about how a piece relates to the whole puzzle - for me, this picture is both about how single events in a person's life relates to the whole life but in some ways also how these persons relate to the building. Their lives overlap and influence each other in ways so that not one person is the same after having lived in that building. And neither is the reader who finishes this magnificent book. I loved it - but I'm still thinking about why... It's not plot driven in any way, the only thing uniting these stories is they take place in the building or in the lives of people who have lived there. I finished it little more than a week and I didn't know much about it when I started so I spend the first couple of days wondering what was going on - and then I just enjoyed it, enjoyed reading about which pictures was on the wall, which recipe the doctor wants named after him, how the appartments changed over time with walls being knocked down to accomodate new needs etc. It's a story about all the little details that make up life and the surroundings we live it in and just as it all matters equally, nothing of it really matters in the end. But it's a beautiful book!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Abandoning novels feels sort of cruel, like letting a whole bunch of people just fade out of your life without trying hard enough to get to know them, so generally speaking if I get past the first chapter I won't give up on a novel. It does happen though: Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire and Marcel Proust’s The Guermantes Way come to mind, so at least my abandoned novels are fairly diverse. With regret, 200 pages in, I’m adding George Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual to the melancholy little li Abandoning novels feels sort of cruel, like letting a whole bunch of people just fade out of your life without trying hard enough to get to know them, so generally speaking if I get past the first chapter I won't give up on a novel. It does happen though: Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire and Marcel Proust’s The Guermantes Way come to mind, so at least my abandoned novels are fairly diverse. With regret, 200 pages in, I’m adding George Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual to the melancholy little list. Life is an account of a single day in a Parisian apartment block. The chapters move through the buildings from room to room in the way a chess-piece knight moves across a board. Fragments of information about the occupants’ stories appear alongside descriptions of objects filling the rooms. Stories spill out: an account of a painting can explain the story depicted, the life of the artist or a historical event tenuously connected to the picture. In reading I was torn between frustration at meeting yet another description of a table or empty room and intrigue at how all these stories might fit together. Perec treats the building like a mystery plot with a single figure at the heart of it, the artist Bartlebooth. Ultimately, the descriptions became too much. May the gods of reading forgive me, but I looked up the plot on Wikepedia to decide whether or not to keep going. The plot is this: Bartlebooth spent 20 years travelling and painting ports, then got these pictures turned into jigsaws. He spent the rest of his life putting the jigsaws back together. Once the image is assembled he destroys it, so nothing remains of his art. But tragically for Bartlebooth, he runs out of time and a few paintings are left behind when he dies. This is just too contrived to bear. I guess Perec wishes to make a point about life, how we fill it up with things, things remain and we don’t. Alongside the persistence of things, presumably there is the meaningless interconnectedness of life, like Derridean philosophy: every thing is known only by its relations to all the things it is not, identity being nothing more than a network of absence or non-being. Yes, I’m hoping that misunderstanding Derrida absolves me for abandoning this novel. Years ago I read Perec’s A Void, a novel written entirely without using the letter e. Writing under such a constraint is some feat in French, a language heavy in e’s, and the translator did a superb job replicating the game in English. But Perec is so absorbed in tricks, life finds no way into the novels. Lots of blurbs on Life: A User’s Manual compare it to Ulysses, but the comparison makes no sense to me. Every word of Joyce’s thrums with vitality, but Perec’s novel felt stifled by its rules and, finally, stifling.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Burak Uzun

    Yapboz parçalarının çok kısma ayrıldığını, en çok bilinenlerden birinin de insan figürüne benzeyenler olduğunu belirten bir yazar; insanları, hikâyelerini birer yapboz parçası gibi bir araya getiriyor. Ortaya çıkan eser ne bir roman, ne bir öykü kitabı, ne bir ansiklopedi ne bir düşün kitabı. Ortaya çıkan eser ne hiçbir şey, ne de her şey. Bunu da başarsa başarsa Perec başarırdı herhalde. Elli günlük maceram, her gün bir hikâye, bir bölüm okuya okuya nihayete erdi. Yalnızca kitabın sonundaki dizi Yapboz parçalarının çok kısma ayrıldığını, en çok bilinenlerden birinin de insan figürüne benzeyenler olduğunu belirten bir yazar; insanları, hikâyelerini birer yapboz parçası gibi bir araya getiriyor. Ortaya çıkan eser ne bir roman, ne bir öykü kitabı, ne bir ansiklopedi ne bir düşün kitabı. Ortaya çıkan eser ne hiçbir şey, ne de her şey. Bunu da başarsa başarsa Perec başarırdı herhalde. Elli günlük maceram, her gün bir hikâye, bir bölüm okuya okuya nihayete erdi. Yalnızca kitabın sonundaki dizin kısmına bile baksanız bu adam ne yapmış böyle, değinmediği hiçbir şey kalmamış sanki diye düşünebilirsiniz. Her okurun okuması gereken bir kitap, tam kelimesiyle "kitap" yani.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Adam Floridia

    What is this book? It’s a picture. A picture cut into pieces—like a jigsaw puzzle—for the reader to reassemble. They say “a picture is worth 1,000 words”? Well, Perec’s picture is worth approximately 238,560 words (I counted the words on one page and multiplied by the number of pages, hence the “approximately). So what is this massive picture? Well, it’s (view spoiler)[1 The Coronation at Covadonga of Alkhamah's victor, Don Pelage 2 The Russian singer and Schonberg living in Holland as exiles 3 Th What is this book? It’s a picture. A picture cut into pieces—like a jigsaw puzzle—for the reader to reassemble. They say “a picture is worth 1,000 words”? Well, Perec’s picture is worth approximately 238,560 words (I counted the words on one page and multiplied by the number of pages, hence the “approximately). So what is this massive picture? Well, it’s (view spoiler)[1 The Coronation at Covadonga of Alkhamah's victor, Don Pelage 2 The Russian singer and Schonberg living in Holland as exiles 3 The deaf cat on the top floor with one blue & one yellow eye 4 Barrels of sand being filled by order of the fumbling cretin 5 The miserly old woman marking all her expenses in a notebook 6 The puzzlemaker's backgammon game giving him his bad tempers 7 The concierge watering potted plants for residents when away 8 The parents naming their son Gilbert after Becaud their idol 9 A bigamous count's wife accepting his Turkish female rescuer 10 The businesswoman, regretting that she had to leave the land 11 The boy taking down the bins dreaming how to write his novel 12 The Australian round-the-worlder and her well-dressed nephew 13 The anthropologist, failing to locate the ever-evasive tribe 14 The cook's refusal of an oven with the self-cleansing device 15 1% sacrificed to art by the MD of a world-wide hotel company 16 The nurse casually leafing through a shiny new photomagazine 17 The poet who went on a pilgrimage shipwrecked at Arkhangelsk 18 The impatient Italian violinplayer who riled his miniaturist 19 The fat, sausage-eating couple keeping their wireless set on 20 The one-armed officer after the bombardment of General H.-Q. 21 The daughter's sad reveries, at the side of her father's bed 22 Austrian customers getting just the steamiest "Turkish Bath" 23 The Paraguayan odd-job man, getting ready to ignite a letter 24 The billionaire sporting knickerbockers to practice painting 25 The Woods & Water Dept. official opens a sanctuary for birds 26 The widow with her souvenirs wrapped in old weekly magazines 27 An international thief taken to be a high-ranking magistrate 28 Robinson Crusoe leading a very decent life style on his isle 29 The domino-playing rodent who feasted on dried-out Edam rind 30 The suffering "word-snuffer" messing around in old bookshops 31 The black-clad investigator selling the latest key to dreams 32 The man in vegetable oils opening a fish restaurant in Paris 33 The famous old soldier killed by a loose Venetian chandelier 34 The injured cyclist who then married his pace-maker's sister 35 The cook whose master ingested only eggs and poached haddock 36 The newly-weds taking credit over 2 yrs to have a luxury bed 37 The art dealer's deserted wife, left for an Italian Angelina 38 The childhood friend reading the biographies of her 5 nieces 39 The gentleman who inserted into bottles figures made of cork 40 An archaeologist researching the Arab kings' Spanish capital 41 The Pole living quietly in the Oise now his clowning is over 42 The hag who cut the hot water to stop her son-in-law shaving 43 A Dutchman who knew any No. could be but the sum of K primes 44 Robert Scipion devising his supremely clever cross-word clue 45 The scientist learning to lip-read the deaf-mute's equations 46 The Albanian terrorist serenading his love, an American star 47 The Stuttgarter businessman wanting to roast his leg of boar 48 Dodeca's owner's son preferring the porn trade to priesthood 49 A barman speaking pidgin in order to swap his mother-goddess 50 The boy seeing in his dream the cake he had not been allowed 51 7 actors each refusing the role after they'd seen the script 52 A deserter from US forces in Korea allowing his squad to die 53 The superstar who started out as a sex-changed guitar-player 54 A redheaded white man enjoying a rich maharajah's tiger hunt 55 A liberal grandfather moved to creation by a detective story 56 The expert penman copying suras from the Koran in the casbah 57 Angelica's aria from Arconati's Orlando requested by Orfanik 58 The actor plotting suicide with the help of a foster brother 59 Her arm held high a Japanese athlete bears the Olympic torch 60 Embattled Aetius stopping the Huns on the Catalaunian Fields 61 Selim's arrow hitting the end wall of a room 888 metres long 62 The staff sergeant deceasing because of his rubber-gum binge 63 The mate of the Fox alighting on Fitz-James's final messages 64 The student staying in a room for six months without budging 65 The producer's wife off yet again on a trip around the globe 66 The central-heating engineer making sure the fueljet ignites 67 The executive who entertained all his workmates very grandly 68 The boy sorting medical blotters he'd been collecting avidly 69 The actor-cook hired by an American lady who was hugely rich 70 The former croupier who turned into a shy, retiring old lady 71 The technician trying a new experiment, and losing 3 fingers 72 The young lady living in the Ardennes with a Belgian builder 73 The Dr's ancestor nearly solving the synthetic gem conundrum 74 The ravishing American magician and Mephisto agreeing a deal 75 The curio dealer's son in red leather on his Guzzi motorbike 76 The principal destroying the secrets of the German scientist 77 The historian, turned down 46 times, burning his 1200-pp. MS 78 A Jap who turned a quartz watch Co into a gigantic syndicate 79 The Swedish diplomat trying madly to avenge his son and wife 80 The delayed voyager begging to have her green beans returned 81 The star seeking admission by meditating a recipe for afters 82 The lady who was interested in hoarding clockwork mechanisms 83 The magician guessing answers with digits selected at random 84 The Russian prince presenting a mahogany sofa shaped in an S 85 The superfluous driver playing cardgames to use up his hours 86 A medic, hoping to make a mark on gastronomy with crab salad 87 An optimistic engineer liquidating his exotic hides business 88 The Japanese sage initiating in great anguish Three Free Men 89 A selftaught old man again going over his sanatorium stories 90 A relative twice removed, obliged to auction his inheritance 91 Customs & Excise men unpacking the raging princess's samovar 92 The trader in Indian cotton goods doing up a flat on the 8th 93 French-style overtures brought to the Hamburg opera by a Hun 94 Marguerite, restoring things seen through a magnifying glass 95 The puzzlemaker with his ginger cat taking the name of Cheri 96 The nightclub waiter, legging up on stage to start a cabaret 97 The rich amateur leaving his musical collection to a library 98 A housing and estate agency woman looking at that empty flat 99 The lady doing the Englishman's black cardboard puzzle boxes 100 The critic committing 4 crimes for 1 of Percival's seascapes 101 The Praetor ordering 30000 Lusitanians to be killed in a day 102 A student in a long coat staring at a map of the Paris metro 103 The building manager, trying to solve his cash-flow problems 104 The girl studying the craftsman's rings to sell in her store 105 Nationalists fighting the Damascene publisher who was French 106 A little girl gnawing at the edges of her shortbread cookies 107 The maid, imagining she'd seen the evil eye in an undertaker 108 A painstaking scientist examining rats' reactions to poisons 109 The pranking student who but beef stock in vegetarians' soup 110 A workman gazing at his letter, as he leaves with two others 111 The aged gentleman's gentleman recomputing his nth factorial 112 The staggered priest offering help to a Frenchman lost in NY 113 The druggist spending his fortune on the Holy Vase of Joseph 114 The jigsaw glue being perfected by a head of a chemistry lab 115 That gent in a black cloak donning new, tight-fitting gloves 116 Old Guyomard cutting Bellmer's sheet in 2 through the middle 117 Original fine champagne proffered to Colbert by Dom Perignon 118 A gay waltz being written by an old friend of Liszt & Chopin 119 Agreeably drowsy after lunch, M. Riri sitting at his counter 120 Gallant Amerigo learning a continent was to be named America 121 Mark Twain reading his obituary long before he'd intended to 122 The woman polishing a dagger that was Kleber's murder weapon 123 The college endowed by its ex-rector, an expert in philology 124 The single mother reading Pirandello's story of Daddi, Romeo 125 The historian who used pseudonyms to publish rubbishy novels 126 The librarian collecting proof that Hitler continues to live 127 A blind man tuning a Russian prima donna's grand piano-forte 128 A decorator making the most of the young pig's crimson bones 129 The agent trading cowries believing he'd make millions at it 130 The disappointed customer who in dyeing her hair lost it all 131 The assistant librarian using red pencil to ring opera crits 132 The lovelorn coachman who thought he's heard a rodent mewing 133 The kitchen-lads bringing up hot tasty snacks for a grand do 134 The nurse's milk jug spilt on the carpet by two naughty cats 135 A Tommy and his bride-to-be stuck between floors in the lift 136 The bookdealer who found three of Victor Hugo's original MSS 137 The English "au pair" reading an epistle from her boy-friend 138 The ordnance general who was shot in the lounge of his hotel 139 The doctor whom loaded fire-arms forced to carry out surgery 140 Safari-buffs with their native guide - posing for the camera 141 The French prof, getting pupils' vacation assignments marked 142 A beautiful Polish woman and her wee son dreaming of Tunisia 143 The judge's spouse whose pearls had cooked black in the fire 144 The cyclist struggling for recognition for his 1-hour record 145 A conscript startled on seeing his old physics schoolteacher 146 The ex-landlord dreaming of a "hero" of the traditional kind 147 A conductor rehearsing his band for 9 weeks, again and again 148 A gifted numerate, aspiring to construct a massive radiomast 149 Antipodean fans giving their idol a present of 71 white mice 150 The Spanish ex-concierge not too keen to unjam the lift door 151 Listening to an enormous phonogram, a smoker of an 89c cigar 152 A choreographer, returning to torment the loveless ballerina 153 The man who delivered wine on a trike doing the hall mirrors 154 An obviously pornographic old man waiting at the school gate 155 The botanist hoping an ivory Epiphyllum would carry his name 156 The so-called Russian who solved every brainteaser published 157 The infant Mozart, performing for Louis and Marie-Antoinette 158 A sword-swallower who on medication threw up a load of nails 159 A man who made religious articles dying of cold in the woods 160 Blind horses, deep down in the mine, hauling railway waggons 161 A urologist musing on the arguments of Galen and Asclepiades 162 A handsome pilot looking for the castle at Corbenic on a map 163 The carpenter's workman warming his hands at a woodchip fire 164 Visitors to the Orient trying to solve the magic ring puzzle 165 A ballet maestro beaten to death in the U.S.A. by 3 hoodlums 166 A princess, who said prayers at her regal granddad's bedside 167 The tenant (for 6 wks) insisting on full checks on all pipes 168 A manager who managed to be away for four months in the year 169 A lady who owned a curio shop fishing for a malosol cucumber 170 The man who saw his own death warrant in a newspaper cutting 171 The emperor thinking of the "Eagle" to attack the Royal Navy 172 Famous works improved by a celebrated artist's layer of haze 173 Eugene of Savoy having a list made of the relics of Golgotha 174 In a polka-dot dress, a woman who knitted beside the seaside 175 The Tommies enjoying girls' gym practices on a Pacific beach 176 Gedeon Spilett locating the last match in his trouser pocket 177 A young trapeze artist refusing to climb down from his perch 178 Woodworms' hollow honeycombs solidified by an Italian artist 179 Lonely Valene putting every bit of the block onto his canvas (hide spoiler)] . This book just blew my mind so thoroughly that I don’t have much ability to piece together coherent thoughts about it. During my reading, I was often upset by the lack of “literary puzzles, allusions, problems of chess and logic, and mathematical formulae” promised by the back cover. I was also often bored by the long, descriptive lists of objects, paintings, settings. Well, dummy that I am, I did not realize that I wasn’t even smart enough to find all those puzzles I hoped to solve, many of which were buried in/constituted by said lists. After reading some notes on Perec’s Oulipian constraints, specifically regarding the structure of the book, I am freakin’ floored. Floored! And I realize that this is an apt image of me trying to "solve" this book: The end of the first chapter lifts a line from the beginning of the final chapter of Kafka’s The Trial. I loved The Trial, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to notice that allusion. And to think, the most challenging puzzle I could make out of this was a “seek and find” like the ones I’ve been doing with my nine month old. Yeah, that huge list that’s in the spoiler, I spent hours finding those “images” in the book and diligently recording their respective pages on that list. Why? Because that apparently was the most challenging puzzle I could even discover let alone solve. Oh, and I didn’t even “solve” it. I got 84/179. Seriously, why had I never heard of Perec before relatively recently thanks to GR?! Why isn’t his name as familiar as Joyce, Nabokov, Gogol (somehow he sort of strikes me as an amalgamation of the three)? *I just realized this is my 450th book read! Glad this one's a milestone.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Guido

    Il rischio più grande, per un'opera così ambiziosa, è che si innamori della propria struttura, trascurando il contenuto: dopotutto questo libro è ambientato, sì, in un condominio parigino; ma lo si esplora locale per locale - dal bagno di un appartamento alle cantine, alle scale di servizio, a una sala da pranzo, all'ascensore, alle camere di servizio e così via - seguendo le mosse del cavallo nel gioco degli scacchi per coprire tutta la scacchiera, visitando ogni casella (tranne una, in questo Il rischio più grande, per un'opera così ambiziosa, è che si innamori della propria struttura, trascurando il contenuto: dopotutto questo libro è ambientato, sì, in un condominio parigino; ma lo si esplora locale per locale - dal bagno di un appartamento alle cantine, alle scale di servizio, a una sala da pranzo, all'ascensore, alle camere di servizio e così via - seguendo le mosse del cavallo nel gioco degli scacchi per coprire tutta la scacchiera, visitando ogni casella (tranne una, in questo caso) e quindi ogni locale dell'edificio una sola volta. L'impresa sembra completamente estranea alla narrativa, eppure funziona. Il merito di Perec è di aver saputo sfruttare in modo originalissimo un meccanismo così complesso: ogni ambiente viene descritto in modo estremamente dettagliato, esaminando tutti gli oggetti presenti, i colori, la disposizione dei mobili; vengono raccontate le avventure di tutti gli inquilini presenti e passati - e si tratta spesso di avventure che farebbero invidia a maestri del genere come Verne o Stevenson: questo libro contiene racconti di viaggi, omicidi, vendette, guerre, truffe, malattie e disastri finanziari; elenchi e cataloghi che riescono a dare un carattere poetico a quelle liste di parole che altrove sembrerebbero noiose; descrizioni di oggetti unici e meravigliosi; riproduzioni di documenti, illustrazioni, mappe; paradossi e invenzioni fantastiche. Alcuni inquilini diventano presto antipatici e insopportabili, altri invece guadagnano l'affetto e la stima del lettore che non vede l'ora di tornare a curiosare nelle loro stanze. Inoltre, nel libro sono disseminati vari riferimenti a opere di autori come Calvino, Melville, Sterne, e altri elencati alla fine del volume; e quando (raramente, nel mio caso) capita di riconoscerne uno, si prova un vivo senso di familiarità e partecipazione, una specie di solletico letterario con conseguente autocompiacimento del lettore, che può quindi vantarsi di aver ritrovato nello scrigno di Perec qualcosa che gli appartiene. I momenti meno interessanti sono, dal mio punto di vista, quelli in cui Perec prova a esprimere una morale malinconica che dovrebbe segnare tutto il libro: la fragilità di tutto ciò che nel presente può sembrare eterno. Le persone e le loro famiglie, le imprese e i successi professionali, i cimeli conservati nelle cantine e lo stesso condominio che nasconde, dietro una facciata di normalità, vicende e oggetti meravigliosi, sono tutti destinati a scomparire. Questo pensiero sembra un po' ovvio se espresso in modo troppo esplicito, ma diventa decisamente più interessante all'interno dei singoli racconti: l'avventura di un esploratore o la storia di una vendetta sentimentale rappresentano quest'idea meglio di qualsiasi spiegazione. Non si tratta, secondo me, di una lettura facile: per poter amare questo libro serve soprattutto molta pazienza (se pensate di leggerlo in fretta, è meglio rinunciare: merita attenzione) e una forte curiosità per tutte le sorprese verbali, grafiche e narrative che regala a chi sa aspettare.

  26. 4 out of 5

    David

    You have to make it through the first 50 pages, which are heavy sledding. But then, somehow, it took off (for me, at least). Which surprised the hell out of me, to be honest. Because normally I just can't abide descriptions of furniture, and rooms and stuff -- I tend to skim right over it. Perec spends an inordinate amount of space in describing the furnishings, when he's not making up amusingly wacky lists, or telling another shaggy dog story about some guy getting fleeced or murdered or jilted You have to make it through the first 50 pages, which are heavy sledding. But then, somehow, it took off (for me, at least). Which surprised the hell out of me, to be honest. Because normally I just can't abide descriptions of furniture, and rooms and stuff -- I tend to skim right over it. Perec spends an inordinate amount of space in describing the furnishings, when he's not making up amusingly wacky lists, or telling another shaggy dog story about some guy getting fleeced or murdered or jilted in some suitably exotic locale. Then there's the whole Oulipian constraint machinery because, you know, Perec. Apart from a bunch of ruminating about jigsaw puzzles, the big one is that the apartment building is laid out like a 10 x 10 grid, the chapters move around on this grid following a knight's tour trajectory. Then there's some other stuff about matching the constraints to the chapters according to a Graeco-Latin square design, though to be honest it's not clear that those particular constraints add a while lot to the soul of the book. Because yes, the book most decidedly has a soul. It's not just the kind of sterile, cerebral Oulipian exercise you might be imagining. Literary references out the wazoo, fun to spot if you enjoy that kind of game. A surprisingly poignant central trio of characters (the jigsaw jokers). Oh, and quest stories. This book has an inordinate number of quest stories. Mostly they do not end well. What I'm not managing to convey here is how much fun this book is. Clearly Monsieur Perec was a wicked smart dude. Equally clearly, and more importantly, he was a total mensch.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    The painter and collage-ist Robert Rauschenberg came of age during the heyday of abstract expressionism in the New York scene; and while his own work involves a similar level of abstraction (as, for example, 1954's Charlene, pictured above), he often found himself at odds with the dominant rhetoric of the "tortured artist." "There was something about the self-confession and self-confusion of abstract expressionism," he says, "that personally always put me off." There was a whole language that I The painter and collage-ist Robert Rauschenberg came of age during the heyday of abstract expressionism in the New York scene; and while his own work involves a similar level of abstraction (as, for example, 1954's Charlene, pictured above), he often found himself at odds with the dominant rhetoric of the "tortured artist." "There was something about the self-confession and self-confusion of abstract expressionism," he says, "that personally always put me off." There was a whole language that I could never make function for myself; it revolved around words like "tortured," "struggle," "pain" [...:] I could not see such conflicts in the materials and I knew that it had to be in the attitude of the painter [...:] I used to think of that line in Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," about the sad cup of coffee. I've had cold coffee and hot coffee, good coffee and lousy coffee. But I've never had a sad cup of coffee. Elsewhere, Rauschenberg tells his biographer "Work is my joy [...:] I don't know anybody who loves work as much as I do."1 I thought about Rauschenberg a lot while reading Georges Perec's Life A User's Manual, and not just because Perec takes the novel to a conceptual height similar to that of the painter's "assemblage" innovations, or because they share a fondness for surprising connections among seemingly unrelated objects and stories, or because they both craft the unusual out of aggressively ordinary materials. No, what really struck me about the two men is the sheer joy they both seem to take in their chosen art form: their ecstatic fearlessness in the face of constraint, or lack thereof. To adopt Rauschenberg's language, I had seen many of the materials Perec uses before: the humorously overdone cataloging of objects, for example, and the repeated obsession with ordering of objects, both appear in the work of Perec's forerunners Samuel Beckett and Julio Cortázar, and his admirer Roberto Bolaño. But seldom have I seen these elements used as tools of sheer delight in the way Perec uses them. In Bolaño's 2666, the forensic cataloging of corpses reinforces the inhumanity of the Santa Teresa killings, and Beckett's characters' obsessive need to catalog the objects and events around them is a symptom of their sinister (yet hilarious) inability to break out of stagnation. But Perec? It's easy to tell that for Perec, as for Rauschenberg, work—storytelling, word-painting—is a joy. Like his character Bartlebooth, he sets himself a strict yet more or less meaningless structural challenge. In Bartlebooth's case, this challenge consists of an ostensibly zero-sum loop: spend a decade learning to paint watercolors; two decades sailing around the world and painting sea-ports, which are then sent back to France and cut into jigsaw puzzles; two decades, upon his return, solving the jigsaw puzzles, upon which they are reconstituted and returned to their place of composition, dunked in an acid bath, and returned to their original state of pristine white paper. For Perec, the challenge is to construct a novel out of a series of motionless vignettes, each vignette featuring a different room or corridor in the same apartment building, at a moment when one particular event is taking place. Both the author and the character go about their assigned tasks with remarkable vigor, but Perec's performance is more remarkable than Bartlebooth's: whereas the fictioneer is merely competent, the author's narrative expands within his structural framework, flexing and reaching, revealing a tapestry of interwoven stories, all the tales of the current and former residents of the rue Simon-Crubellier as revealed through their rooms: their divans and settees; their crumpled letters lying in waste-paper bins; their traveling trunks stowed in their cellars; their blackened pearls; reproduction wall-hangings; foreign currency; collectible ink-blotters; books and paintings; photographs tucked under arms; all the artifacts of a century or more. Life seems to me at once a compulsively structured exercise and a mass of undifferentiated stuff. In the face of this dichotomy, it's unsurprising that the book displays an obsession with the different possible ways of ordering things. The passages dealing with this obsession were consistently among my favorites; in addition to being great fun, I think they reflect something important about the book's essence. From a multitude of angles, Perec seems to be asking: "Is there a "proper" order to the objects we encounter? Are some methods of ordering better than others? Are all equally valid?" Here, for example, is Bartlebooth's valet Smautf, fretting over how (or, in the end, WHETHER) to sort the labels from his employer's twenty years of travel: He wanted, so he said, to sort the labels into order, but it was very difficult: of course, there was chronological order, but he found it poor, even poorer than alphabetical order. He had tried by continents, then by country, but that didn't satisfy him. What he would have liked would be to link each label to the next, but each time in respect of something else: for example, they could have some detail in common, a mountain or volcano, an illuminated bay, some particular flower, the same red and gold edging, the beaming face of a groom, or the same dimensions, or the same typeface, or similar slogans ("Pearl of the Ocean," "Diamond of the Coast"), or a relationship based not on similarity but on opposition or a fragile, almost arbitrary association: a minute village by an Italian lake followed by the skyscrapers of Manhattan, skiers followed by swimmers, fireworks by candlelit dinner, railway by aeroplane, baccarat table by chemin de fer, etc. It's not just hard, Winckler added, above all it's useless: if you leave the labels unsorted and take two at random, you can be sure they'll have at least three things in common. What strikes me about this passage is Smautf's criterion of "satisfaction": his preference for one classification system over another is pretty much purely a matter of aesthetics. By contrast, Western civilization has a lot of angst tied up in arguments over "true" classification: how closely grouped are humans and apes? Should animals be classed by method of reproduction, type of food, outer body covering, number of appendages, or some other factor? Should pagans be considered closer to Christians than Muslims? What is more valuable: a fabergé egg or a Tiffany lamp? Here is Perec, arguing that all methods of classification are imposed from without, essentially a form of art, and that we are free to choose whichever schema appeals to us personally. Unless, like Winckler's jigsaws, a puzzle has been crafted with the puzzler in mind (which most of life, Perec seems to argue, is not), there is no "right" or "wrong" order. Obviously, this idea can play havoc with one's idea of propriety and value, but it can also come as a relief, or even be exhilarating. Here, for example, we see the entire apartment building needlessly agonizing over the correct pronunciation of a neighbor's name, spelled "Cinoc": Obviously the concierge didn't dare address him as "Nutcase" by pronouncing the name "Sinok." She questioned Valène, who suggested "Cinosh"; Winckler, who was for "Chinoch"; Morellet, who inclined toward "Sinots"; Mademoiselle Crespi, who proposed "Chinoss"; François Gratiolet, who prescribed "Tsinoc"; and finally Monsieur Echard, as a librarian well versed in recondite spellings and the appropriate ways of uttering them, demonstrated that, leaving aside any potential transformation of the intervocalic "n" into a "gn" or "nj" sound, and assuming once and for all, on principle, that "i" was pronounced "i" and the "o," "o," there were then four ways of saying the initial "c": "s," "ts," "sh," and "ch," and five ways of pronouncing the final: "s," "k," "ch," "sh," and "ts," and that, as a result, depending on the presence or absence of one or another diacritic sign or accent and according to the phonetic particularities of one or another language or dialect, there was a case for choosing from amongst the following twenty pronunciations: SINOS SINOK SINOCH SINOSH SINOTS TSINOS TSINOK TSINOCH TSINOSH TSINOTS SHINOS SHINOK SHINOCH SHINOSH SHINOTS CHINOS CHINOK CHINOCH CHINOSH CHINOTS As a result of which, a delegation went to ask the principal person concerned, who replied that he didn't know himself which was the most proper way of pronouncing his name. It turns out that the family's original surname was "Kleinhof," a pronunciation nobody would have considered based on the current spelling, and Cinoc himself maintains that "it wasn't at all important whichever way you wanted to pronounce it." Here we have all the humans in the rue Simon-Crubellier attempting to ascertain the "correct" order and combination of sounds to designate their neighbor, when in point of fact there literally IS no correction pronunciation, since Cinoc's name has traveled so far from the original "authentic" Kleinhof (if indeed "Kleinhof" itself was authentic) that it's no longer reasonable to claim that it ought to be pronounced in the old way, but no definitive new way has been settled upon by Cinoc himself or by anyone else. Thus, it seems to me, Perec often shows us puzzle pieces belonging to no puzzle—or, maybe, objects that have a tendency to look like puzzle pieces, but which are actually some quite different object, unless, like the collector of unica who must decide what qualifies as "genuine" and "one-of-a-kind," we can find a way to make them fit into an aesthetically-created puzzle of our own invention. ******* Life A User's Manual was, ironically, my April read for the Non-Structured Book Group. Up next month: Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels. 1All Rauschenberg quotes pulled from Robert Rauschenberg, a full-color monograph with text by Sam Hunter, published by Ediciones Polígrafa.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jean-Marc Bonet

    I will never think of an apartment building the same way again. Or Perec for that matter, who I have given up on before, not this time. An astonishing, inventive masterpiece. Will live long in the memory.

  29. 4 out of 5

    ΑνναΦ

    La catalogazione, l'elenco e l'elenco della spesa! (della cantina, della dispensa, del salone) elevati a delizia narrativa. Mai, mai avrei immaginato di divertirmi, incantarmi e perdermi così tanto leggendo elenchi di cose e frattali di vite. Il libro non è di facile approccio, se non si è fruitori della letteratura postmoderna... che ha in Pynchon il suo sommo vate e in Amis un suo valido seguace, sarà perché entrambi, a suo tempo, mi son piaciuti, che anche lo scoglio Perec è stato virato sen La catalogazione, l'elenco e l'elenco della spesa! (della cantina, della dispensa, del salone) elevati a delizia narrativa. Mai, mai avrei immaginato di divertirmi, incantarmi e perdermi così tanto leggendo elenchi di cose e frattali di vite. Il libro non è di facile approccio, se non si è fruitori della letteratura postmoderna... che ha in Pynchon il suo sommo vate e in Amis un suo valido seguace, sarà perché entrambi, a suo tempo, mi son piaciuti, che anche lo scoglio Perec è stato virato senza intoppi? Dopo le prime – non so esattamente, 100 pagine? – , nelle quali, effettivamente, si è un po' étonné di fronte all'approccio narrativo inusuale, si apre mondo meraviglioso, di vite a incastri, di scene quotidiane con balzi all'indietro che ricostruiscono le vite degli inquilini della Rue Simon-Crubellier, 11, XVII° arrondissement, Parigi, nella loro completezza, seguite da digressioni narrative altre, dove c'è spazio per vari generi: dal giallo, al racconto fantastico, a quello storico o fiabesco (ho udito, tra gli altri, echi romanzeschi da “Mille e una notte” e fiabeschi da “La Bella e la Bestia”), con intarsi sottili di citazioni, richiami dottissimi ed eruditi di cui Perec fa sfoggio senza pedanteria. Iperromanzo par excellence, puzzle che ruota intorno alla ricostruzione di diversi puzzles, labirinto in cui perdersi cercando vie di fuga, per tornare sempre al centro; solo un genio (parolone abusato, ma qui ci sta tutto) poteva immaginare di costruire storie le più varie, non partendo dall'intreccio, dai caratteri o dai dialoghi, ma dalla minuziosa descrizione di oggetti che appartengono – e definiscono – le persone. Gli oggetti che ci appartengono o ci sono appartenuti ci definiscono quanto e più dei nostri discorsi e delle nostre azioni, ci ricorda Perec, molto semplicemente. Ma l'intuizione, certamente originale, sarebbe un artificio freddo e indigesto se non fosse provvista di eleganza e arguzia, tenerezza (con quanta sorridente tenerezza descrive le vite degli inquilini) e abilità stilistica infinita. E non starò qui a ripetere che Calvino questo libro lo amava moltissimo e che è un'opera sperimentale dell' Ou-Li-Po (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, ovvero "officina di letteratura potenziale formato da scrittori e matematici) di cui Perec era il massimo esponente né che c'è uno schema scacchistico-matematico alla base del libro. Voglio invece dire, dopo averlo terminato, che questo libro scacchiera, questa matrioska ipnotica, mi ha fatto passare ore a perdermi solo per il gusto di perdersi leggendo storie insieme al leggermente malinconico sentore del Tempo (dopo Proust, anche lui ha un afflato per il Tempo...) quasi un co-protagonista principale, insieme a Percival Bartlebooth. Che, come questi, costruisce case e vite o acquerelli e poi le disfa senza lasciar quasi traccia, se non degli oggetti che le hanno riempite. Da rileggere. Non più a mo' di pedone, ma con l'ariosa mossa del cavallo, seguendo le vite di un personaggio alla volta, al seguito del suo armadio, della sua dispensa, del suo soggiorno e della sua cantina... Ma forse è meglio se aspetto. Ho ancora davanti agli occhi le scene, i personaggi, i luoghi e gli acquerelli dipinti, ricostruiti e infine disfatti per sempre da Bartlebooth. Mi sento l'Ebreo Errante che vive da Mille anni e è stato in mille luoghi e ha conosciuto mille storie. Immagino Perec si sia divertito un mondo a scriverlo e se c'è qualcuno che è andato vicino alla sensazione che si prova ad essere Dio, certamente, questo è lui.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Simona

    Il fatto che questo libro sia ambientato a Parigi gli conferisce, a mio avviso, alcuni punti a favore. Ma non è solo la capitale francese a raccogliere consensi, è molto di più. Leggendolo si ha la sensazione di quanto Perec si sia divertito a scriverlo, a progettarlo e a idearlo. Partendo da un condominio, lo scrittore analizza ogni camera, ogni stanza, ogni inquilino fino a formare i 99 capitoli o sarebbe meglio dire le 99 stanze facenti parte del condominio. Ciò che colpisce è la maniacalità, l'o Il fatto che questo libro sia ambientato a Parigi gli conferisce, a mio avviso, alcuni punti a favore. Ma non è solo la capitale francese a raccogliere consensi, è molto di più. Leggendolo si ha la sensazione di quanto Perec si sia divertito a scriverlo, a progettarlo e a idearlo. Partendo da un condominio, lo scrittore analizza ogni camera, ogni stanza, ogni inquilino fino a formare i 99 capitoli o sarebbe meglio dire le 99 stanze facenti parte del condominio. Ciò che colpisce è la maniacalità, l'ossessione con cui ogni piano, ogni stanza viene descritta, analizzata quasi al microscopio senza tralasciare nulla, dalla cosa più semplice (come le cantine) a quella più importante. Proprio come un puzzle in cui ogni tessera deve combaciare, così ogni storia si arricchisce fino a formare quel mosaico che chiamiamo vita, con le sue imperfezioni, i suoi momenti negativi, il suo continuo incedere. Un condominio di gente e di storie bizzarre, particolari, dolci, inutili, commoventi, proprio come è la vita.

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