Very much enjoying Life A User’s Manual by Georges Perec. This was Richard‘s pick for our nonstructured group read this month. I’ve finished the first part and was really impressed by Perec’s ability to create such interesting stories out of strictly constrained settings. Really, brilliant.
My initial reaction towards reading him was equal parts trepidation (that I wasn’t capable of understanding him) and delight — because of the familiarity. His style immediately brought to mind two authors I absolutely love. The technical and structural aspects of the novel echoed Calvino and the narrative voice and storytelling Bolaño. (I got flashbacks to 2666 while reading about Crespi’s dream, and not just that.) I could tell right away this was going to be a treat; thus, made sure to save the best for last this month.
What’s really interesting is that Richard himself had previously mentioned both Bolaño and Calvino in relation to Perec. That Bolaño looked up to him and that he was friends with Calvino. (Later, I remembered Calvino and Perec were indeed, in fact, both members of Oulipo, a group of writers and mathematicians who use constrained techniques in their writing.)
Life A User’s Manual covers an entire apartment building and all its rooms and all its inhabitants (and then some). At first it seems too technical — Richard talks about the technique Perec used in maneuvering the story from room-to-room and Isabella frets over the precision of detail and geometry — and maybe it is, but then again I’m hoping there’re deeper things to be picked up here, as I go further in.
I confess there are way too many references to things (mostly literature) I am not even remotely familiar with. Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped me from thoroughly enjoying the book. Richard mentions Flaubert, Isabella mentions Borges, Bellezza mentions Jules Verne, and Frances and Isabella make the connection to Arthur Stanley Jefferson and Gertrude of Wyoming. You gotta love these shared reads. One thing’s for sure, I’m looking forward to reading Luigi Pirandello even more now (as he appears on p. 19).
[An aside, to my Filipino readers, I was delighted to see the Philippines appear twice. First, Manila. Then Puerto Princesa in Palawan, and Mindanao and Luzon. Forgive me this bit of indulgence but the Philippines rarely ever gets mentioned in literature.]
Anyway, some of my favourite moments in Part I include Winckler’s room (“what remains when there’s nothing left”) and Smautf’s travels with Bartlebooth (500 seascapes in watercolour; I might not tire of it even if he described each one).
Loved this passage:
From this, one can make a deduction which is quite certainly the ultimate truth of jigsaw puzzles: despite appearances, puzzling is not a solitary game: every move a puzzler makes, the puzzle-maker has made before; every piece the puzzler picks up, and picks up again, and studies and strokes, every combination he tries, and tries a second time, every blunder and every insight, each hope and each discouragement have all been designed, calculated, and decided by the other.
Geeky confession: I am crazy addicted to jigsaw puzzles (and most every other kind of puzzle, for that matter).