Sunday, September 20, 2009

Life...A User's Manual

When you see the happy-go-lucky man in the picture below, or read the often times hilarious works of Georges Perec, you wouldn't think that he was orphaned at the age of 8 in France. His parents were Polish Jews who emigrated to France in the 1920's where his father was killed fighting in World War II & his mother most likely was killed at Auschwitz.

Somehow all that helped shape the writer Perec would become.

In 1967 Perec joined the French writing group known as Oulipo- started by Raymond Queneau & Fran├žois Le Lionnais- which included the likes of Italo Calvino & Jacques Roubaud.

Life A User's Manual was the last of Perec's works before he died of cancer in 1982 & it is epic. Paul Auster says, "Those who have a taste for the unusual, for books that create worlds unto themselves, will be dazzled by this crazy-quilt monument to the imagination." As good of a quote as that is, it falls short of explaining just how beautiful & special Life is.

As an ergodic novel, it is one of the most beautiful. Authors who are the best in this field, to give you an idea of what I mean, are James Joyce, Flann O'Brien, Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, & the writings of Jorge Luis Borges. These are authors who masterfully own the written word, & Perec is one of my now favorites.

Life is a puzzle of the lives & rooms in
an apartment block in the XVIIth arrondissement of Paris where a single moment (8:00 pm June 23, 1975) begins to unfold the histories of generations of families. We are introduced to small moments & artifacts that make up so many lives, sometimes tragic, sometimes ordinary, but in some way always touching & intimate.

Perec has created a world that recreates the world. It recreates art, history, literature, & humanity. & there is definitely something very humane in the way he has done it.

This new updated version from Godine Publishers (as well as matching all of Perec's other books, making quite a handsome collection on your shelves) is a beautiful, sharpened edition. It may seem overwhelming, but it is a truly enjoyable experience.

1 comment:

Brian Lehman said...

My favorite book of all time.