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Life: A User's Manual
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The last major event in the history of the novel' Italo Calvino

About the Author

Georges Perec (1936-82) won the Prix Renaudot in 1965 for his first novel Things- A Story of the Sixties, and went on to exercise his unrivalled mastery of language in almost every imaginable kind of writing, from the apparently trivial to the deeply personal. He composed acrostics, anagrams, autobiography, criticism, crosswords, descriptions of dreams, film scripts, heterograms, lipograms, memories, palindromes, plays, poetry, radio plays, recipes, riddles, stories short and long, travel notes, univocalics, and, of course, novels. Life A User's Manual, which draws on many of Perec's other works, appeared in 1978 after nine years in the making and was acclaimed a masterpiece to put beside Joyce's Ulysses. It won the Prix M-dicis and established Perec's international reputation.

Reviews

``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

Though Perec (1936-1982) is ``experimental'' in the tradition of Joyce and Nabokovhis work is rich with word games and acrostics that reveal the secret life of languagethis 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 genresromance, detection, adventureconstitute 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. (November 5)

A dazzling, crazy-quilt monument to the imagination -- Paul Auster * New York Times *
An eccentric, madly ambitious scheme to display life all at once. The product of a hectically ingenious intelligence, like James Joyce's -- Victoria Glendinning * The Times *
Amazing, moving and lovable * New Statesman *
The finest novel to appear in French since Beckett's trilogy * Times Literary Supplement *
Very funny and very sad... A treasure-chest of stories, something to be enjoyed by anyone who has ever responded to works on the same scale and in the same spirit as Rabelais and Chaucer and Sterne * Scotsman *

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