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Tall Storeys

Patrick Parrinder

10 December 1987
Life: A User’s Manual 
by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos.
Collins Harvill, 581 pp., £15, October 1987, 0 00 271463 9
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The New York Trilogy: City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room 
by Paul Auster.
Faber, 314 pp., £10.95, November 1987, 0 571 14925 1
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... Like Hoyle and Stephen Potter, GeorgesPerec was a devotee of indoor games. La Vie Mode d’Emploi (1978), a title combining lifemanship, gamesmanship and one-upmanship, was the monumental creation of an author whose other productions included ...

Funny Old Fame

Patrick Parrinder

10 January 1991
Things: A Story of the Sixties, 
by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos and Andrew Leak.
Collins Harvill, 221 pp., £12.50, July 1990, 0 00 271038 2
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Parcours Peree 
edited by Mireille Ribière.
Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 162 pp., frs 125, July 1990, 2 7297 0365 9
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by Philippe Sollers, translated by Barbara Bray.
Columbia, 559 pp., $24.95, December 1990, 0 231 06546 9
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... Once upon a time, before the Channel Tunnel was built, there were two contemporary French novelists. GeorgesPerec died in 1982 at the age of 45, and nobody in England who was not a French specialist had ever heard of him. With Philippe Sollers it was different. Editor of the avant-garde theoretical journal Tel ...

E-less in Gaza

John Sturrock

10 November 1994
A Void 
by Georges Perec, translated by Gilbert Adair.
Harvill, 285 pp., £15.99, October 1994, 0 00 271119 2
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... purposeless ordeal undertaken voluntarily, a gratuitous taxing of the brain, and the severer the better. It should make the business of writing not pleasanter but harder. Harder or, if you think like GeorgesPerec, easier. Perec has to have been the most talented and entertaining player of word-games in the long history of Homo ludens, and he gave as his reason for taking to them so whole-heartedly that ...


Daniel Soar: Harry Mathews

21 July 2005
My Life in CIA: A Chronicle of 1973 
by Harry Mathews.
Dalkey Archive, 203 pp., £8.99, July 2005, 1 56478 392 8
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... and privately’. He had published two well-received and tricky novels, The Conversions (1962) and Tlooth (1966); he was trying hard to find a publisher for the third. He had been befriended by GeorgesPerec and become a member of the Oulipo, the Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, whose monthly meetings to discuss mathematical or combinatorial writerly inventions kept him going but whose fierce ...


Mark Ford

2 February 1989
W or the Memory of Childhood 
by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos.
Collins Harvill, 176 pp., £10.95, October 1988, 0 00 271116 8
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Life: A User’s Manual 
by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos.
Collins Harvill, 581 pp., £4.95, October 1988, 0 00 271999 1
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... These are the first of GeorgesPerec’s wonderful and extraordinary writings to be translated into English. Perec has been a household name in France since the runaway success of his first and most popular novel, Les Choses (1965), which still sells twenty thousand copies a year. Les Choses describes, with a ...

Hound of Golden Imbeciles

John Sturrock: Homage to the Oulipo

29 April 1999
Oulipo Compendium 
edited by Harry Matthews and Alastair Brotchie.
Atlas, 336 pp., £16.99, March 1999, 0 947757 96 1
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... 1981) – where the virtuosity is such as to cast mere virtuality into the shade. Who is likely to forget, if we can stay with palindromes for a moment, the over-the-top example provided by GeorgesPerec for the 1973 anthology, which runs to more than five thousand characters, all the way from ‘Trace l’inégal palindrome. Neige. Bagatelle, dira Hercule. Le brut repentir, cet écrit né Perec ...

Think Tiny

Mark Ford: Nancification

17 July 2008
The Nancy Book 
by Joe Brainard.
Siglio, 144 pp., $39.50, April 2008, 978 0 9799562 0 1
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... and home where I tried to do an oil painting using my dick as a brush. Obviously the textbooks omit that one. Harry Mathews, a friend of Brainard’s, explained the concept to his fellow Oulipian GeorgesPerec, who composed his own Je me souviens (dedicated to Brainard), which was published in 1978, and the genre took off in France too. When Perec died five years later Mathews commemorated him with a ...

Op Art

Joshua Cohen: Joshua Sobol

3 March 2011
Cut Throat Dog 
by Joshua Sobol, translated by Dalya Bilu.
Melville House, 270 pp., £10.99, November 2010, 978 1 935554 21 9
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... It’s telling that American detective and thriller fiction – ‘American’ because the genre’s commercial conventions were perfected in the US – finds its most cerebral innovators abroad: Georges Simenon (Belgium), Leonardo Sciascia (Italy), Bernhard Schlink (Germany). What must be its mandarin masterpiece was written in French in 1969: GeorgesPerec’s La Disparition is a lipogram, from the ...

By an Unknown Writer

Patrick Parrinder

25 January 1996
Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories 
by Italo Calvino, translated by Tim Parks.
Cape, 276 pp., £15.99, November 1995, 0 224 03732 3
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... the text.’ Needless to say, whisky is the drink mentioned.) He turned short stories into novels, and unfinished novels into short stories. He wrote a story for the OuLiPo, the Paris group to which GeorgesPerec and other avant-garde writers belonged, but was quite happy to have it published in Playboy instead. If we connect the idea of ‘piling stories upon stories’ with a nostalgia for innocent ...

Red makes wrong

Mark Ford: Harry Mathews

20 March 2003
The Human Country: New and Collected Stories 
by Harry Mathews.
Dalkey Archive, 186 pp., £10.99, October 2002, 1 56478 321 9
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The Case of the Persevering Maltese: Collected Essays 
by Harry Mathews.
Dalkey Archive, 290 pp., £10.99, April 2003, 1 56478 288 3
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... around 190,258,751 years to peruse in their entirety. Most OuLiPian texts astonish not by their powers of expansion, however, but by their self-imposed laws of constraint. The best known of these are GeorgesPerec’s lipogrammatic La Disparition (1969), composed without once using the letter e, and his Les Revenentes (1972), which contains no vowels except e. Over the years OuLiPians have developed or ...

John Sturrock

Mary-Kay Wilmers

20 September 2017
... the Dreyfus Affair as ‘that inspirational episode of injustice’, though it plainly has been precisely that. Only a very few occasions allowed John to lower his guard. The death in Auschwitz of GeorgesPerec’s mother elicits a hint of sentimentality, but time spent in the Gulag is no excuse for sloppy thinking and, as John puts it, Andrei Sakharov’s discussion of Derrida isn’t ‘guaranteed ...
4 January 1996
Cross Channel 
by Julian Barnes.
Cape, 211 pp., £13.99, January 1996, 0 224 04301 3
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... novel’s ‘19th-century heart’, does it, one wonders, make all that much difference whether one calls Barnes a ‘Modernist’ or a ‘Post-Modernist’ writer? Some might want to call Beckett or GeorgesPerec ‘Modernist’, some might want to call them ‘Post-Modernist’, and the disagreement would not seem to be fatal. The concept ‘Modernist’ originated in connection with art, and if you do ...


Robert Irwin: Pinball and Despair

7 July 1994
... disposition, Roussel is not left alone with his meditative game and an armed confrontation with a képi bleu swiftly follows. But, my novel apart, they write on this matter better in France, GeorgesPerec being perhaps the most recent of the great literary pinball players. The protagonist of Perec’s A Man Asleep speaks for me: ‘You hug the machines for nights on end, feverishly, angrily. You cling ...
8 February 1990
A New History of French Literature 
edited by Denis Hollier.
Harvard, 1280 pp., £39.95, October 1989, 0 674 61565 4
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... on their wedding-night. (In a properly frosty chapter on the Surrealist cult of Sade in the 1930s, Carolyn Dean comes within three italic characters of making the volume’s one joke, when she has Georges Bataille dismissing Sade’s new-found admirers as ‘con artists’). Of the women writers for whom admission to the canon is demanded, one, George Sand, has surely never been dropped from it, but ...

Anticipatory Plagiarism

Paul Grimstad: Oulipo

6 December 2012
Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature 
by Daniel Levin Becker.
Harvard, 338 pp., £19.95, May 2012, 978 0 674 06577 2
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... Robert Frost’s crack about free verse – that it’s tennis without a net – might be modified to describe GeorgesPerec’s novels: they’re tennis with nets everywhere. His whodunnit La Disparition (1969), a lipogram, was written without the use of the letter e (it was translated into e-less English as A Void by ...

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