by Georges Perec


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ISBN-13: 9780099512165
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/28/2008

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A Void 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
lriley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As one of the French experimental literary group Oulipo (founded by Raymond Queneau and Francois Le Lionnais) Perec was maybe the most experimental of them all. This Poe-ish detective type of novel was written without a single letter E in the entire text and that absent letter is the key explainable reason for the missing and dead characters in the plot. In any event it is fast-paced and fun read and a virtuoso tour de force by a supremely talented writer.
melydia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was originally a novel written in French without use of the letter e, which was then translated into English under the same constraints. I sort of suspect that this little literary game was the main reason it was published at all. This was the kind of book I would have liked to read for a class, where someone would stop and explain what was going on every few chapters. It was far too tedious and heavy on the smug cleverness for my patience as a casual reader. I got about sixty pages in, then realized I was skipping and skimming more than I was actually reading, so I gave up.
souva on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿A Void¿ (in French, La Disparition), written by Georges Perec in 1969 without using the vowel ¿e¿ , is probably the finest example of lipogrammatic fiction in world literature (you¿ll find a short Wiki tutorial on Lipogram HERE).The book is a kind of metaphysical thriller, following the well-acclaimed Borgesian tradition. The protagonist of the book, Anton Vowl, suddenly disappears from his residence in Paris. His friends try to solve the mystery of this strange disappearance by rummaging through Vowl¿s diary, notes and letters, containing mostly his strange word plays, metaphoric writings and yes, lipograms. In the process of getting into the heart of the mystery they find themselves at the very centre of an atrocious and hyperbolic conspiracy which puts their own lives in danger. The book goes on unfurling plots after plots which become more and more complicated each time, involving murders, family secrets and relentless pursuit after trails. The book is also infested with Perec's notorious cross-references and red herrings. Here, amongst other things, we find a lipogrammatic version of Rimbaud's poem and that of Shelley's Ozymandias.The pun in the title quite succinctly describes its theme¿it is a book about a void as well as avoidance. The book has a void due to its strange avoidance of the vowel ¿e¿, which, in turn, determines the fate of its characters (remember the surname of the protagonist¿Vowl, a vowel without an¿e¿). That¿s why, throughout the book we repeatedly come across a strange folio consisting of 26 volumes, out of which the 5th one is always missing. In fact, the book itself has 26 chapters but there is no 5th chapter in it, but a conspicuous blank page instead. Each of the characters in the book is a prey of an unavoidable destiny. The shadow of a past mystery runs after their lives and curiously links them up to a common misfortune. It hints at the fact that we all have a void inherent in our existence and however hard we try to avoid that, it doggedly chases after us and determines our fates. On the other hand, if we somehow manage to peep into that void, we are doomed forever. Characters in this book are in search of that void because finding it out will give a meaning to their otherwise absurd lives¿that is, being mere puppets within their own socio-political milieu, without the ability to intervene or change its course. They pursue it through joining the missing links, following the faint trail of some distant possibilities and by pure coincidences, thereby trying to overcome their limitations and restrictions (it also brings forth the limitation of the book itself, the restriction of not using ¿e¿). But at the end, all their efforts amount to a fatalistic blow, exterminating themselves. So, eventually, the book becomes a commentary on its own self, desperately trying to give a meaning to a random sequence of events, and once that is done, it has to stop, to come to an inevitable conclusion.PS: When I first started reading the book, I was quite put off as the language appeared to me a bit phony and cumbersome. I was actually blaming Perec mentally for writing such a book after the brilliant feat of ¿Life: A User¿s Manual¿. For the initial 14 chapters, I just carried on reading as I didn¿t want to add another book to my ¿to be read¿ collection and was trying to finish it as soon as possible. But my interest started building up from section IV of the book (it has six sections in total, without any section II), and after that, it was a complete literary whirlwind which didn¿t allow me to put down the book once, except for that 40 winks at night (that too, chock-full of nightmares).
JimElkins on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don't think any of the thirteen-odd reviews on the page for the hardcover edition really do the work justice. (Incidentally: Amazon should do something about the way reviews have to attach themselves to hardcover or paperback: there isn't usually any difference between the two, and it divides the critical discussions.) People are struck at the amazing idea of writing a book without the letter "e," and also at the accomplishment of the translator at finding reasonable equivalents for so many of Perec's solutions. But that's just praising virtuosity: if the book is as important as some of his other books, there has to be another effect of his choice. Perec is, I think, one of the most interesting postwar writers. "Life: A User's Guide" is tremendous, and "W" is entirely different and equally astonishing. But "A Void" is experimental in a different sense. Perec himself helpfully gives the reasons for his experiment in the penultimate section of the book. He says (1) the book might be a "stimulant... on fiction-writing today," (2) that it would be "a spur to [the] imagination," (3) that it might be a "wilfully critical" provocation "vis-a-vis fiction." For an ideal reader, then, this book is a model of the kind of radical strategy that has to be adopted to make the novel a viable form. I have no criticism of that ambition. Raymond Roussel's "Locus Solus" is a deep well here -- it is alluded to throughout the book -- and I completely agree that much in Roussel remains unmined. The difficulty, for me, is in the exact ways that the strategy of avoiding the letter "e" plays out in individual passages. In order for the book to operate as Perec hoped, the avoidance of "e's" would have to present itself as a continuous negotiation, providing variable but continuous pressure on ordinary narration. The void would have an abstract effect, turning the reader's thoughts to questions of what comprises ordinary narration and what might be done to overturn it. What actually happens is quite different. The overall narrative is very well arranged so that the "e" itself, its persistent and almost always unnoticed absence from the lives of the characters, is what produces their deaths. But at the level of sentences, phrases, and word choices, the void is often more annoying and repetitive than enabling. Here is an example: "Miraculously, though, Albin got out of Tirana by night and, hiding out in a thick, dark, almost fairy-tale wood, would languish in it for all of six springs and six autumns, a half-moribund survivor..." (p. 159) The phrase, "half-moribund survivor," is a substitute for "half-dead." The book is replete with examples of complex, Latinate words substituting for simpler, Anglo-Saxon words. The result is a quirky and often pleasing archaism and formality. But it's different with "all of six spring and six autumns." The book is also replete with versions of that phrase -- "20 springs," "six springs," and so on. All those are to avoid the word "years." Now that's not a problem in French, where the word would be "ans," but it is typical of the book as a whole. It's a silly, uninteresting, repetition. My point here is that it's a different kind of effect than the first one. It's different again with "fairy-story wood," which is a substitute for "fairy-tale wood." That is not archaic or expressive, but random. If it has an expressive value, it's just the very fleeting annoyance I feel at realizing what generated the expression. These different kinds of problems create different expressive effects, and remind readers of different kinds of writing (Latinate, scholarly, gruff, inept, childish...). In combination -- relentless combination! -- they make this book into an experiment in hokey, inept writing. You might think all that is intended, but I do not think so. In the penultimate section, Perec says his experiment took him down "many intriguing linguistic highways and byways," and that he honed his "writing skills" with "inspiration" and
EdwardC on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A novel written without once using the letter "e." FIrst, in French, a language with 50% of words contain that vowel. Adairs' translation is, itself, a work of genius.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago