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Life: A User's Manual is the magnum opus of one of the most startlingly inventive and original novelists who ever lived. The French polymath Georges Perec, an associate of the Oulipo collective, once wrote a full-length novel without ever using the letter "e", then he wrote one in which "e" is the only vowel employed at all. In Life: A User's Manual, he deconstructs the lives in a fictional apartment block in Paris at one single moment in 1975. The result is a tapestry of interwoven stories that are alternately funny and sad and which originate from the most esoteric writing constraints imaginable. Arguably the totemic post-war French novel. Recommended By Jason C., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"In this wondrously optimistic book, he sidles through the lives of the inhabitants of a single Paris apartment block and manages to convey scintillas of every aspect of the human condition—proving that, while ultimately without point, life is a continuum rich beyond belief, and so very well worth living." The Week Magazine
"I once had the occasion to write to the translator of these books, David Bellos, and I took the opportunity to let him know that Perec is my favorite writer, and that, since a translator is to a large extent the creative force behind a translated work, he, David Bellos, is also, in a palpable way, my favorite writer. Few writers have opened up the possibilities of literary art with as much enthusiasm, mastery, and pleasure as Perec." Martin Riker, Associate Director of the Dalkey Archive Press
"One of the great novels of the century. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the late 20th century has produced a novel on the level of Joyce, Proust, Mann, Kafka, and Nabokov." Boston Globe
About the Author
Georges Perec (March 7, 1936 in Paris–March 3, 1982 in Ivry-sur-Seine) was a French novelist, filmmaker, documentalist, and essayist. He was a member of the Oulipo group. His father died as a soldier early in the Second World War and his mother was killed in the Holocaust, and many of his works deal with absence, loss, and identity, often through word play.