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Life A User's Manual Paperback – Sep 15 2008

4.7 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: David R. Godine; 2nd ed. edition (Sept. 15 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1567923739
  • ISBN-13: 978-1567923735
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 3.8 x 21.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 794 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #103,444 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Though Perec (1936-1982) is "experimental" in the tradition of Joyce and Nabokov, his work is rich with word games and acrostics that reveal the secret life of language this euphoric novel, winner of the Prix Medicis, will enchant a range of readers. The serial storytelling within the framework narrative is as beguiling and inexhaustible as Scheherazade's. The facade is removed from a Parisian apartment house on the Rue Simon-Crubellier, permitting us to spy on its tenants in the grid of rooms and to examine their pictures and bibelots. Books, letters, clippings and announcements add to the textual welter, all interlocking like pieces of a puzzle, the novel's chief metaphor. Tales told in stylishly reinvented genres, romance, detection, adventure, constitute what is experienced, read about or dreamed up by an array of restaurateurs, mediums, cyclists, antique dealers and pious widows. A quester for the Nile tries to rescue a beautiful German girl from a harem. A judge's wife, whose sexually thrilling thefts result in a sentence of hard labor, ends as a bag lady on a park bench. Meanwhile a team of eccentric artists, Bartlebooth, Winckler and Valene, enact the creative process, painting watercolor seascapes, cutting them apart with a jigsaw and reassembling them as smoothly as "an oily sea closing over a drowning man." The image of a splendidly wrought table, its interior fretted by patient worms, succinctly and differently restates the process. This is a classic of contemporary fiction.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

"The eye follows the paths that have been laid down for it in the work," begins Perec's encyclopedic novel, which details everything, animate and inamimate, in an imaginary apartment house. His characters unfailingly do the least expected: Laurelle, killed at her own wedding by a falling chandelier; Ingeborn, who casts a white actor as Otello; Gregoire, fired from a vegetarian restaurant for pouring beef extract in the vegetable soup; a judge's wife sentenced to hard labor. The author reserves the greatest irony for Percival Bartlebooth, like himself an artist. Bartlebooth paints watercolors that are made into jigsaw puzzles, then reverses the process until he has a perfectly blank sheet. Creation and dissolution are the themes in this highly entertaining work, itself a puzzle. Lisa Mullenneaux, Iowa City, Iowa
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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I first read this book when I was 17, and have reread it more than once; I loved it the first time, and it gets better each time. Perec can be a bit frustrating, and the book is not necessarily the easiest to get into, but if you give it time, by the end you'll be absolutely hypnotised. What I love especially is his attention to small things, everyday things, insignificant things: these are, after all, what make up life, and by portraying them with such loving care, Perec creates something very beautiful indeed, something like a love-song for ordinary life (though this is not to say there is no drama in the book - there is).

If you read Bellos's wonderful biography, a lot of things in the book become clearer, but you don't actually need to follow the various tricks and games (I hadn't a clue when I first read it, but that didn't interfere with my enjoyment). Another reviewer compared Perec to Glenn Gould; it would be equally apt to compare this work, I think, to Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier (so wonderfully performed by Gould): both take the basic elements and carefully show how they are things of profound beauty.
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Format: Paperback
So much has been written about the intricate mathematical structures of Perec's masterpiece that I have no reason to repeat them.
Perec's genius - and, contrary to what one reviewer has written, it's precisely his very human, and very warm and tender understanding of humanity that generates this - is his keen insight that everything contains a story, be it the postcard on the desk, or a particular painting on a wall, or a puzzle piece that just doesn't fit. Perec takes an apartment building and jumps from room to room, grabbing at these bits of minutae, following their backstories, and creating one of the most complex and beautiful mosaics of life that's ever been put into words. As each room yields its secrets, we see that a tiny apartment building in Paris really does contain the whole world - a huge swath of history, languages, peoples, and cultures; comedy, tragedy, mystery, and drama; personal and public; fiction and nonfiction; poetry, prose, lists, games, recipes, articles, signs, crossword puzzles...
Flip to the back and check out the index - it's intimidating, and yet - it's all there, in one building, waiting to be discovered and explored.
I can't comment on the translation, unfortunately - I've only read it in the original. But Perec's language is always tight, witty, and deeply insightful. This is certainly one of the great works of world fiction, and absolutely not to be missed.
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Perec would properly be regarded as an experimentalist and this novel, like his others, was written under self-imposed constraints.
The novel takes as its plan a block of flats in a Parisian suburb, a 10 x 10 grid, over which the narrator must proceed by way of the moves of the Knight in chess, never landing on the same flat twice(this, like other formalities, were allowed to be bent but let's not get too complicated...) with a whole system for information, knowledge and learning to be allocated to each chapter.
'So far, so what' might be the natural response to this were it not for the majesty of the finished novel.
Read in translation the writing is formal yet intimate and seems to proceed at its own leisurely pace as it moves through the block of flats, through life. Numerous 'Tales' are recounted as the novel progresses, each rich in feeling and poignancy though sometimes disturbing, the key of which, indeed the key to the novel, is 'The Tale of the Man who painted watercolours and had puzzles made out of them'. To go into detail would spoil the effect for other readers but this is about life, about a plan for life and ultimately a metaphor for life. And the making of this book.
I have to confess to a love for French literature generally. It seems possible to trace an organic progression and tradition (the blanket phrase that readily comes to mind is 'intellectual pessimism'...)through its history which is then disrupted every once in a while by an individual who rebels against that tradition (Rimbaud) or subverts it (Mallarme or Aragon). Perec, arguably, both is and is not of this tradition.
He is however, in the wider tradition of great literature. And seems to recognise this. 'Life...
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Perec switches dimensions: In an ordinary novel, the main dimension of movement is time - all movement in space and detail are derived from this movement in time. In Perec's "Life, A User's Manual" the main dimensions of movement are space, and not the least - detail. Any movement back or forth in time is merely derived from this primary movement.
This peculiar mode of movement gives rise to a peculiar writing style where the writer can not mention an object without at the same time mentioning its details. It is a very contagious writing style, and so while reading this book, something I mainly did on the train to and from work - usually between 7AM and 9AM in the morning and between 4PM and 7PM in the evening on weekdays, except for tuesdays when I would either leave early or arrive late due to work-outs - I found myself digressing in details (moving in the dimension of detail) as I wrote email to friends or participated in other exchanges. It might remind you of Arabian Nights, except that it is the objects and not the people who tell the stories within the stories.
A warning for you who wish to read this book: Just as with "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", you will find yourself wondering through the first 100 pages or so if this book is ever going to go anywhere. As opposed to the case of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, you will find it doesn't. But by that time, you won't care that it doesn't. It is a wonderfully self-contained universe that starts and ends with nothing.
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