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Life: A User's Manual (1978)

by Georges Perec

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,472483,057 (4.27)1 / 236
Over twenty years ago, Godine published the first English translation of Georges Perec's masterpiece, Life A User's Manual, hailed by the Times Literary Supplement, Boston Globe, and others as "one of the great novels of the century." We are now proud to announce a newly revised twentieth anniversary edition of Life. Carefully prepared, with many corrections, this edition of Life A User's Manual will be the preferred reference edition for the future. 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. Structured around a single moment in time "€" 8:00 p.m. on June 23, 1975 "€" 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, an 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 is 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 formula. All are there for the reader to solve in the best tradition of the detective novel.… (more)
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» See also 236 mentions

English (32)  French (5)  Italian (3)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (2)  German (1)  Finnish (1)  Norwegian (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (48)
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
The book's formal structure is so clear as to constrict the plot into a straitjacket of character and description, but as such, is a tour throughout the shape of an apartment building. (This source was particularly useful in illuminating Perec's intent: http://wordaligned.org/knights-tour)
This was my first experience with a book generated by the mathematically preoccupied Oulipo movement. It provided the secondary kind of reading obsession: rather than spurring me off to the library for other Oulipo works, it gave me a need to try something similar. The intricacy of executing any such clever project would require the realization of my dreams for a novel built on many charts, many plans, many restrictions. It seems that I might be able to plan my way out of the mysteries of the long work, clarify the structure, and feel justified in the excessive number of words I write.
Related: between finishing this and writing about it, I've started Rings of Saturn, and realized my own obvious taste for books which use photos, diagrams, and reproductions inside them. It should have been easy to tell when I was younger and loved the American Girl scrapbook series, but after loving New Topics in Calamity Physics and The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, I cannot imagine how I missed the signs.
Anyway, to get to the meat of the review, Bellos' translation provides an exquisite hall of curiosities. His and Perec's efforts present the apartment building's inhabitants as if they're on display in a museum. The dramatic moment of the narrative (another clever conceit: the whole thing takes place in the space of five minutes) mimics the temporary intersection of audience and exhibit. The most scintillating sections of the book are the backstories, presented with the candor of an explanatory notecard next to the exhibit. Yet these stories go far, far further than any placard could, with the luxury of depth that his page count affords him. Because of his chosen timeframe, it's in these histories that the plot moves forward, although there are also details in his painstaking descriptions of environment that provide secrets about the characters.
I am reminded of those people who say that no book should be longer than 200 pages, and of other reviews I've read which suggest he could have sent half the manuscript through a wood chipper and come out better on the other side. But that would be a fundamentally different book.
I wish I had read this all in one go, and remembered all of it, and also been a good deal more clever so that I could catch more of Perec's jokes. ( )
  et.carole | Jan 21, 2022 |
Immense. A wonderful exploration through a fascinating fictional apartment block in Paris, guided by Perec's unyielding commitment to his own self-set Oulipean rules. A masterpiece. ( )
  ephemeral_future | Aug 20, 2020 |
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. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
My favourite book of all time... 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... To read and read again and never exhaust its possibilities. RIP, GP. ( )
  PZR | Jul 28, 2018 |
in genere riesco anche a fare a meno delle istruzioni.
abbandonato a p.116. ( )
  cry6379 | Sep 17, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
The appendices to Life: a user's manual seem to me less appended than integrated parts of the narrative, so much of which consists in clues, patterns, linkages, quests and resolutions. To follow a character or place through the text via the index, checklist, chronology, is to be led to other people, places and topics; only in this 'second reading' may some of the threads in the tapestry stand out to delineate the pieces of a pattern which was there all along but perhaps not perceived. Do read this manylayered, multi-dimensional book; then play with the endmatter and discover more of it.
added by KayCliff | editThe Indexer, Judy Batchelor (Apr 1, 1990)
 

» Add other authors (52 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Perec, Georgesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bellos, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Borger, EduTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gundelach, Frants IverTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keynäs, VilleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Magné, BernardPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mari, EnzoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Selvatico Estense, DaniellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walker, JoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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People/Characters
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Epigraph
Look with all your eyes, look
(Jules Verne, Michael Strogoff)
Dedication
to the memory of RAYMOND QUENEAU
First words
Preamble
To begin with, the art of jigsaw puzzles seems of little substance....

PART ONE, CHAPTER ONE
Yes, it could begin this way, right here, just like that, in a rather slow and ponderous way, in this neutral place that belongs to all and none, where people pass by almost without seeing each other, where the life of the building regualrly and distantly resounds.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Over twenty years ago, Godine published the first English translation of Georges Perec's masterpiece, Life A User's Manual, hailed by the Times Literary Supplement, Boston Globe, and others as "one of the great novels of the century." We are now proud to announce a newly revised twentieth anniversary edition of Life. Carefully prepared, with many corrections, this edition of Life A User's Manual will be the preferred reference edition for the future. 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. Structured around a single moment in time "€" 8:00 p.m. on June 23, 1975 "€" 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, an 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 is 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 formula. All are there for the reader to solve in the best tradition of the detective novel.

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