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A Void by Georges Perec

A Void (1969)

by Georges Perec

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,2263410,141 (3.78)80
As much a masterpiece of translation as a novel, A Void contains not one single letter e anywhere in the main body of the text. This clever and unusual novel is full of plots and sub-plots, of trails in pursuit of trails and linguistic conjuring tricks
  1. 10
    Eunoia: The Upgraded Edition by Christian Bök (sgump)
    sgump: Similar idea going on here. The brilliant work is a "univocal lipogram, in which each chapter restricts itself to the use of a single vowel" (103).
  2. 10
    Oulipo Laboratory: Texts from the Bibliotheque Oulipienne (Anti-Classics of Dada.) by Italo Calvino (S_Meyerson)

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» See also 80 mentions

English (31)  Dutch (3)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Trahir qui disparut, dans La disparition, ravirait au lisant subtil tout plaisir. Motus donc, sur l’inconnu noyau manquant - « un rond pas tout à fait clos finissant par un trait horizontal » -, blanc sillon damnatif où s’abîma un Anton Voyl, mais d’où surgit aussi la fiction. Disons, sans plus, qu’il a rapport à la vocalisation. L’aiguillon paraîtra à d’aucuns trop grammatical. Vain soupçon : contraint par son savant pari à moult combinaisons, allusions, substitutions ou circonvolutions, jamais G.P. n’arracha au banal discours joyaux plus brillants ni si purs. Jamais plus fol alibi n’accoucha d’avatars si mirobolants. Oui, il fallait un grand art, un art hors du commun, pour fourbir tout un roman sans ça ! B. Pingaud
  Haijavivi | Jun 6, 2019 |

I first came across this book when a critic I admire (Michael Dirda) mentioned the work over several different book reviews. A couple of weeks later, I saw it mentioned in a newspaper comic of all places, and taking this for a sign, I decided to plunge in.

The curious thing about this book is that, except for the author's name, there is no instance of the letter E anywhere in the text. This must have been a challenge for the author, but as I read it I kept forgetting about this fact. There is a great deal of circumlocution, and initially I chalked it up to the author being French (which no doubt plays a part -- why say something in 20 words when you can say it in 250?), but the primary reason for this is how else do you describe anything without using the most commonly found letter in the English and French languages?

The story is a mystery of sorts, and the pacing moves fairly quickly. It can be brutish at times, but in an off-handed way. Part of the mystery of the book, the absence of the letter E, is ruined by the fact that the cover gives away this central point. The book was written originally in 1969, but it was only translated into English in 1995, by which time the eccentricity of the book was well known. One memorable point for me was when the author recreated Poe's "The Raven" without the letter E by completely rewriting the poem from scratch but keeping the and overall tone and feel.

If you are feeling adventurous, I would give it a go. I will say that I described the book to my wife, and she said it sounded terrible, which is how many of the books I've read in the past two years have been (terrible sounding). She also said that it seems my taste in literature is trending towards towards Hipsterism, and I'm half afraid she may be right. ( )
  Terrencee | May 8, 2019 |
Oulipo was mostly about writing with arbitrary constraints, and this book is mostly - no, it's probably fair to say wholly - known through its constraint. Writing without that particular glyph is tricky, but - obviously - not wholly impractical. GP also did a contrary trick in 1972 with Les Revenentes, a story that omits all non-consonants apart from that glyph that is missing from this book.

So why? Is it only a schoolboy trick to show you can do it, or did it add anything artistically? As far as I can work out - and this small trial is assisting with sharing that - constraints mostly work by blocking off such boring, standard ways of saying things as you might put into your normal work without thinking. A constraint is a way of pushing you as author to find original ways to put your thoughts into words. But it could also pull you towards things in your subconscious that you didn't know you would want to say. I think that's why GP brings in Albanian bandits, giant carp, bath-tubs, zahirs and so forth. In a way, it is just a fancy variant of what is going on in your mind if you pick a strict form such as haiku, tanka, ottava rima, ghazal, cinquain, and so on.

GP took a basically silly plot, a kind of parody of a whodunnit, in which a high body count and a lot of missing back-story that turns up during discussions play a big part. It also has a lot of word-play, palindromic paragraphs, parody of famous authors, a summary of Moby-Dick, and a lipogram within a lipogram. But you would not pick this book up for its story: it is always GP's linguistic acrobatics that grab you. So many spots at which it looks as though it can't work without violating his constraint, but GP always has a way out in mind. What a star, and how sad that his output was cut short so young!

* * *

OK, enough already with the lipograms. You have to do it when you review this book, if only to find out for yourself how hard it is, but it's best left to the experts. It isn't any easier in French - in principle, English should be the easier of the two, really, with a richer store of synonym pairs and fewer consistent grammar and spelling rules. In French, there are some things that are effectively ruled out altogether: adjectives for feminine nouns, for example, or the second and third person plural forms in most tenses of verbs. Perec had to do a few tricks to ensure that his characters could address each other using the informal "tu" (2nd singular),since the more usual formal "vous" always leads you to "-ez" endings. (In English, of course, you would rule out the 3rd person singular "-es" form and the past participle for all regular verbs.)

The constraint dictates the form of the book in other odd ways, too. For example, none of usual the French mealtime words passes the constraint, so you have to cheat - Perec steals lunch and collation. Characters also sometimes have the affectation of saying Thank you in English. And the Moby-Dick pastiche can't say baleine (whale) or bateau/navire (boat/ship), which results in a few complications...

And you notice how I allowed myself to be drawn into saying that La Disparition is an entirely frivolous book, because that's where the constraint led me. That's not entirely true: it definitely has a darker side. Perec's father died on war service and his mother in a concentration camp, so you have to stop and think when you realise that this is a book about children who have lost or been separated from their parents, and where a relentless, invisible killer is progressively wiping out everyone with a certain mark on the forearm. It is a joke, but it's a pretty black one. ( )
  thorold | May 5, 2017 |
I did not like this book at all. I thought it was pretty insane but I like the fact that the author went to so much trouble not to use the letter 'e'. That's the only reason I gave the book 3 stars otherwise I would have given it 1 star. This book makes no sense at all. There are way to many subplots and I did not find any of them interesting. I would like to read his first novel, Things: A Story of the Sixties, as that won the Prix Renaudot award in 1965. I would not recommend reading this novel to anyone as it is quite strange. It seems the author is pretty talented though - here is some info about the author:

Georges Perec (1936-82) won the Prix Renaudot in 1965 for his first novel Things: A Story of the Sixties, and went on to exercise his unrivaled mastery of language in almost every imaginable kind of writing, from the apparently trivial to the deeply personal. 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. Life: A User's Manual, which draws on many of Perec's other works, appeared in 1978 after nine years in the making and was acclaimed a masterpiece to put beside Joyce's Ulysses. It won the Prix Medicis and established Perec's international reputation. ( )
  EadieB | Jan 19, 2016 |
At first an annoyance, the lack of 'e's eventually didn't bother me at all and I got quite into the twists and turns of the plot and multiple subplots. Not the easiest book to read but I was pleasantly surprised. ( )
  sashinka | Jan 14, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Perec, Georgesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Adair, GilbertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Helmlé, EugenÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wiel, Guido van deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Introduction:  Today, by radio, and also on giant hoardings, a rabbi, an admiral notorious for his links to Masonry, a trio of cardinals, a trio, too, of insignificant politicians (bought and paid for by a rich and corrupt Anglo-Canadian banking corporation), inform us all of how our country now risks dying of starvation.
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There is no letter "e" in this book
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