‘Life A Users Manual’ by Georges Perec – A More Traditional Review

 

‘Life A Users Manual’ by Georges Perec (1978) – 568 pages         Translated from the French by David Bellos

Reading ‘Life A Users Manual’ was an exasperating yet rewarding experience.

I am not going to pretend that I loved every one of the interminable lists of objects that Perec inundates us with or all the ornate or banal items on these lists. I remember one time when Perec is enumerating and lengthily describing all the appliances in a home improvement catalog, I skipped a couple of pages until the list finally ended. And I’m someone who usually has to read every word of a fictional work in order to feel that I’ve given it a chance. I certainly felt bad about skipping whole pages, but I could not see the point in reading them.

It took me awhile to discover the playful, antic, mischievous spirit of this work.

In the chapter “Valene (Servants Quarters, 9), Perec gives us a list of 179 story ideas including:

82 The lady who was interested in hoarding clockwork mechanisms

108 A painstaking scientist examining rats’ reactions to poisons

Some of these story ideas Perec later uses in ‘Life A Users Manual’.

At one point, Perec includes in one of his tales the story of someone who works for a company that produces a dictionary. New words are constantly being added to the dictionary, but Perec imagines someone whose job it is to remove words from the dictionary in order to make room for the new words. How do you decide that a word is no longer of use, for example a locomotive horse for children called a velocimane? Of course Perec gives us other examples of words which are removed.

LOUPIAT (masc. nn) Fam: Drunk “She was bloody stuck with her loupiat of a husband.” (E. Zola)

Georges Perec is the kind of writer who can find the magic in old dictionary definitions of obsolete words.

A Bedroom at 11 Rue Simon Crubellier

You must approach Perec with the spirit that he might just be putting you on, playing a trick on you. He might be taking advantage of your good intentions as a reader. You might not get the joke right away, but when you look back on it you might figure out that he was fooling you. The last thing you can assume is that Georges Perec is being straight with you. There is always a twist.

At last ‘Life A Users Manual’ with all of its endless lists and misbegotten tales broke down my resistance to it.

 

Grade:   A-

 

4 responses to this post.

  1. LOL. No, Perec is never going to be a straightforward read!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  2. Next year, next year, maybe…

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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