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A Void by Georges Perec

A Void (original 1969; edition 1995)

by Georges Perec

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1,153327,062 (3.77)77
Title:A Void
Authors:Georges Perec
Info:Harpercollins (1995), Hardcover
Collections:Your library
Tags:Fiction, Oulipo, read

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A Void by Georges Perec (1969)

Recently added bynog, private library, Alistair_Ian_Blyth, MadDani, dylanwolf
Legacy LibrariesThomas C. Dent
  1. 10
    Oulipo Laboratory: Texts from the Bibliotheque Oulipienne (Anti-Classics of Dada.) by Italo Calvino (S_Meyerson)
  2. 00
    Eunoia 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).

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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 |
There is no letter e in this book at all and there are over 280 pages.
  jon1lambert | Dec 20, 2015 |
The premise of A Void is bold and its execution is skilful, but sadly it is a one-joke book that rather outstays its welcome. Things are improved by Gilbert Adair's lively translation, including the book's high-point: an e-less paraphrase of Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley and Poe. ( )
  Lirmac | Sep 28, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Perec, Georgesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Adair, GilbertTranslatorsecondary 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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