A Void (Initial Thoughts)

A Void. A work by Georges Perec which follows lipogrammatic constraints; meaning, there’s no letter ‘e’ in the whole book. (It was translated that way into English, as well.)

Last week it dawned on me how clever the title alone is. A void as in an emptiness, a gap, a hole where the letter ‘e’ should be. Or, avoid as in completely leave it alone.

If the first two words of such a work can be so fraught with meaning, what does that bode for my comprehension of the rest of the work? I’m reading it with my computer’s browser open to Google, let me tell you.

How interesting to find this quote then, indicating that the absence of the most commonly used letter in the alphabet is tied to the loss of Perec’s parents:

“The absence of a sign is always the sign of an absence, and the absence of the E in A Void announces a broader, cannily coded discourse on loss, catastrophe, and mourning. Perec cannot say the words père [“father”], mère [“mother”], parents [“parents”], famille [“family”] in his novel, nor can he write the name Georges Perec. In short, each “void” in the novel is abundantly furnished with meaning, and each points toward the existential void that Perec grappled with throughout his youth and early adulthood. A strange and compelling parable of survival becomes apparent in the novel, too, if one is willing to reflect on the struggles of a Holocaust orphan trying to make sense out of absence, and those of a young writer who has chosen to do without the letter that is the beginning and end of écriture [“writing”].” ~Warren Motte

For one who is constantly interested in the theme of loss, I’m going to try my best with this novel. I may need a little help, Richard, along the way.

13 thoughts on “A Void (Initial Thoughts)”

  1. Col, it's interesting, but it's hard for me! There are cultural and literature connections which I'm not as knowledgeable about as I'd like, and I'm afraid I'm missing important nuances. However, I can grasp the big picture, and that is indeed a fascinating read.Bermuda Onion, not only that, how about the translator doing it too? Italo Calvino is also in the group with George Perec who wrote lipogrammatic novels. I have his work Cosmicomics on my shelf, but I don't think that particular book is without a vowel. In fact, I'm sure not. ;)Bibliophile by the Sea, come back for further posts as this book is a read aloud hosted by Richard; many people will be recording their thoughts as they read it. Isn't that the best part about blogging, finding something totally new which you'd never have read on your own?


  2. So nice to see your early thoughts on this, Bellezza! Have you noticed that A Void appears to have 26 chapters (like the number of letters in the English and French alphabets) but that chapter 5 (where the letter "E" should be found in numerical order) is nowhere to be found? Or that the book has five parts or sections (like the number of vowels) but that the second section (again corresponding to "E" in the A, E, I, O, U sequence) is also missing? What a character Perec was in between the more serious stuff you mention in your post!


  3. Richard, I just posted my thoughts on Part 1 last night (to be 'published' in a few days) wherein I was wondering what the heck happened to Part II. Now you've explained it! I can see there is a lot more to look at in this novel than just the context clues; it is indeed a puzlle, and I'm glad you're around to help me find the solution(s).Rachel, could you imagine even writing one line without an e? Not m! 😉


  4. This sounds like a wonderful book, Bellezza! I can't believe how someone can write a book without an 'e'!! I can't wait to hear your thoughts on the book. I also want to read it too 🙂


  5. Oh those wacky Oulipo guys. I am still working my way slowly through Calvino but I will definitely have to give Perec a try. I look forward to your review!


  6. I am so sad to be missing this, but have "avoid"-ed to order any books till after we've moved so that I'm sure to receive them.. the quote you posted tempts me more.. that is very interesting to know.


  7. I read about this book before, I thought it is superb to write an entire book without an "E", it is to me, a sort of rare miraculous work of genius!


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