Funny Old Fame

Patrick Parrinder

  • Things: A Story of the Sixties, by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos and Andrew Leak
    Collins Harvill, 221 pp, £12.50, July 1990, ISBN 0 00 271038 2
  • Parcours Peree edited by Mireille Ribière
    Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 162 pp, frs 125.00, July 1990, ISBN 2 7297 0365 9
  • Women by Philippe Sollers, translated by Barbara Bray
    Columbia, 559 pp, $24.95, December 1990, ISBN 0 231 06546 9

Once upon a time, before the Channel Tunnel was built, there were two contemporary French novelists. Georges Perec 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 Quel, and associate of literary and psycho-analytic thinkers such as Barthes, Kristeva and Lacan, his was a name of which no self-respecting British intellectual could afford to remain entirely ignorant – though his novels, so far as I can discover, were neither translated nor read. But as Sollers grew older he abandoned his youthful Maoism to become a worshipper of American capitalism and, finally, some sort of Catholic mystic. Tel Quel changed its name to L’ Infini. And, since fame is capricious, in the last years of Mrs Thatcher’s reign it was Perec, not Sollers, who – with the publication of David Bellos’s translation of Life: A User’s Manual – found a keen British audience.

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