Initial Thoughts on Perec: Life, A User’s Manual

I’m thinking that Frances, and Claire, and any other bloggers who are reading Georges Perec’s Life A User’s Manual are a lot smarter than I. Take this passage alone:

Smautf has been in Bartlebooth’s service for more than fifty years. Although he calls himself a a butler, his services have been more those of gentleman’s gentleman or secretary; or, to be even more precise, both at the same time: in fact, he was above all his master’s travelling companion, his factotum, and if not his Sancho Panza at least his Passepartout (for there was indeed a touch of Phileas Fogg in Bartlebooth), in turns porter, clothes valet, barber, driver, guide, treasure, travel agent, and umbrella holder. (p. 52 of the Vintage edition)

If I hadn’t read Jules Verne’s Around The The World in 80 Days, I’d have no idea what the above reference was about. And so it is with more than half the names, or events, I encounter; I feel I should know of  them, or they should at least ring a bell, but alas, my cultural literacy seems to be sorely lacking.

However, I will continue on because the book is fascinating. (Murakami long ago prepared me for reading that which didn’t make complete sense to me.)

And, I got a fabulous haircut yesterday so all is not lost.

Addendum: It’s now 9:50 p.m., I’m on page 170, and I’m finally into it. I’ve given up trying to place a context for every name, every situation, and have given myself over to the characters. They are charming, they are flawed, and I’m getting the sense that this novel, called  a manual for life, is really a spoof on what we’ve turned our lives into. More to follow as the discussion takes place with Richard as our host on April 30.

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16 thoughts on “Initial Thoughts on Perec: Life, A User’s Manual”

  1. Haha, don't worry – we're all in the dark to some extent! Everyone picks up on different things, and what a lot of things there are!! That's my favorite piece by Jules Verne by the way. And "Yay" for brilliant new haircuts. 😉

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  2. Sarah, I'm so relieved I'm not alone. I was thinking maybe I ought to send my degree back to Wittenberg. Which wasn't in literature, but still, a liberal arts degree ought to get one through a few French novelists, eh? ;)I must add, though, having lived in France a bit in my life, I do love the vision of the apartment building he creates. I can see it perfectly, smell it, and all its inhabitants. I miss Europe so much. Also, doesn't this remind you a bit of The Elegance of The Hedgehog? A little?

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  3. ha ha I have a fab haircut yesterday too!Heard about the book. Hope to have a chance of reading itone day. Esp if Murakami mentiond it. 😉

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  4. Gosh, yes, the apartment building is amazing. Wonderful to imagine, with all it's dark corners and bright characters. And now you have one up on me – I haven't read The Elegance of the Hedgehog…! Yet, of course. It's on the list. 🙂

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  5. Murkami didn't mention it, he's just a bit obscure like Perec is turning out to be. I haven't given up hope, though, of figuring out what he's saying. Cross your fingers for me.

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  6. Well I know who Fogg is, but if the rest of it is similar I don't know if I'd stand a chance either! If Murakami's similiar however I might move his books further down my TBR list.

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  7. What, you're not a Murakami fan?! Of course, not everyone is, but he's so dear to my heart. Even though his style took some getting used to for this western kind of brain. 😉

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  8. Yes, you've lost me after Sancho Panza! It does sound fascinating though. I suppose it's one of those books that needs the reader to stop thinking and just let the writing wash over them for it to make sense. Coincidently, I've just started reading my first Verne (never knew he was French!). And I've never read a Murakami. I've been meaning to read Kafka on the Shore but that's still as popular as ever in the library.

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  9. And I've just realised you've quoted Holbrook Jackson in your header! I'm excited that somebody else knows him. I have one of his books that I love: 'The Fear of Books'.

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  10. I don't think I'd understand half (or more) of the things he seems to be reffering to either, but it does sound like a fascinating read. I'll be looking forward to your review and I hope you enjoy the rest of the read!

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  11. I haven't read anything by Holbrook other than amazing quotes. I particularly liked this one of his because it connected Beauty and Books so eloquently. Not that the former is more important, by any means. 🙂

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  12. Come back for the reviews on April 30, when there will be wiser people than I commenting on Perec's work. This is the first time I've read anything by him, but it's always so wonderful to discover a new author, let alone discuss it with others who have just read it.

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  13. Bellezza, I think Perec wrote the book in such a way that it could be enjoyed with or without knowledge of the many names and references. However, running into an "inside joke" that you are familiar with is delightful…like when I was reading a random passage and came across a "rewrite" of a Borges short story mixed in. For some reason, the context just cracked me up–but I still want to try to figure out why Perec chose that moment to tip his hat to Borges via the snippet. For now, though, the entertainment is its own reward for me–thanks for the post!

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  14. For such a hard book to track down (it was for me, anyway), there are an awful lot of editions! Both the one picture in this post and the one in your sidebar are different from mine (and each lovely in its way).I'm with you — there's nothing to do but give yourself over to it. It'd be impossible to note everything.I didn't really get a Murakami vibe (Murakami is far more surreal), but now you mention it, I recognize this "everything is connected" feeling. (Still not done, about 100 pages to go.)So happy to hear about your haircut! I'm looking for one of those myself.

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