Customer Reviews: Life: A User's Manual (Verba Mundi)
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on October 30, 2013
A manual of a machine usually begins with the description of the parts and then shows how the machine works. Perec does more or less the same in this book. In each chapter he describes a room in a big house in Paris, starting with a detailed account of the objects in the room and then zooming in on the resident(s); often their story is more explicitly told.

In his forword Perec offers a key to read this book: to look at it as a puzzle, beforehand constructed by someone, and to reconstruct it with the use of some techniques. This is in line with Perec's literary experiments and the Oulipo-group he was part of. It also suggests this book is no more than a kind of game, with no existential message.

I have some problem with this: implicitly (and necessarely) in all the stories and lists there is a message. I read this as follows: men isn't capable to get a global look on the puzzle of life, and detect a meaning, but nevertheless we all strive (some more passionately than others) to fill out our life, to give it meaning; this results in a network of traces and objects (I refer to the lists of the rooms), and very often (almost Always) in a sense of dissapointment and frustration.

Perec has created a tremendous work of art, very ingenious and intelligent, and also very erudite and encyclopedic. Furthermore some of his little stories are really beautiful (they tend to give this book the character of a new "1001-nights"). Because of that, I have given this book a more than average grade.

But nevertheless, it doesn't convince me: the endless lists, though they illustrate the richness and labyrinthic character of human life, are very dispiriting (I confess I read them rather diagonal in the second half of the book); above all I was very disappointed Perec always looks on the outside of objects and people, never disclosing the inside (which ofcourse is much more difficult), and this explains why he misses the essence of life; his puzzle always remains but a puzzle, never more.
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on February 21, 2001
The book presents a richly interwoven series of stories with complex, mind boggling intertwinings. The novel resembles a giant jigsaw puzzle with each piece bringing more insight into the one master jigsaw puzzle which is life itself.
The novel describes the life of the residents of a Paris apartment building. It is densely packed with very fine details about the people and places, making it a slow reading. Also, it behooves the reader to remember as much as possible of whatever he reads so that he can correlate the various pieces of the puzzle (i.e., the novel). Which is also a reason to read the novel again and again (probably once every year) to enjoy it thoroughly. It resembles Tolstoy's War and Peace in this regard.
In short, one can rarely expect to come across another novel like this. A must read for everyone who wants to try new things.
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on December 14, 2014
I have only sampled the book so far, but the content I read was very good. It was a section about an art collector who was fooled by con artists. One can tell that there is considerable logic and, relative to some books, omniscient thought going into the work. If there is a danger to the work, it is its ability to make one behave more like ordinary, fashionable people. But the book is not superficial, it's just a little bit 'period' --- dating to an earlier time in which smoking for example wasn't seen as a bad habit. But, overall, the result is very good.
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on October 25, 1999
Much more than a puzzle, a painting, or an enormously detailed snapshot of a single instant in a single building (though it's all these) "Life" is also the story of Europe in the 20th Century. The emotional response to this history, the almost-unwritten ghost haunting the whole book, is overwhelming even in Perec's detatched style. To fail to see or feel this emotion is to be unable to read.
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on August 27, 2013
Many people misinterpret nihilism as only a negative or cynical approach to life and to the cosmos. But with "Life: A User's Manual" (LAUM) I sense that Georges Perec is approaching nihilism as a very positive, creative force of being. LAUM accepts our essential nothingness, but revels in the process that takes place between the birth nothing and the death nothing. We are able to exercise an exuberant free will, bouncing around within the framework of those two framing events of birth and death to create puzzles and layers and collections. (The basement of LUAM as subconscious, populating our self, which is essentially nothing, with survival gear, food, not for, but of thought.) Go places, paint a picture, adhere the picture to wood, cut it apart into a puzzle, assemble the puzzle, reconstitute the puzzle into a whole and make it as perfect as to be unknown as ever having been a puzzle, then finally, dissolve the painting until there is no evidence of the painting. Nothing to nothing is very much something. It seems that the book itself is a still life of the building. I wish I could paint so that I could take a decade to illustrate the details of the building.

From LAUM:
"In other words, Bartlebooth resolved one day that his whole life would be organised around a single project, an arbitrarily constrained programme with no purpose outside its own completion.
The idea occurred to him when he was twenty. At first it was only a vague idea, a question looming--what should I do?--with an answer taking shape: nothing."
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on May 31, 2013
Visionary work. Obsessive beatifully detailed but with an overarching sense of narrative. Hard to pull off but Perec did so with style and wit. Came to this book by way of Italo Calvino who write it was one of the truly great works of the 20th century. I agree.
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on April 6, 2015
I bought this as a gift for one of my student's parents who has a very astute and enquiring mind. I had read the book in Comp Lit grad school and thought (and still think) it is genius- the literary allusions are over the top. It is a challenge and a joy to read. I adore mysteries as a guilty pleasure - this is in a genre all its own.
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on February 5, 2000
Perec is a master of description, painting scenes and characters with lush detail; Bellos deserves much credit for such a rich translation of Perec's vital imagination. Perec creates short tales that stand alone wonderfully, and then weaves the stories together in a way that is mysterious, funny, entertaining and insightful all at once. It's not an "easy" or a "quick" read; his prose is so rich, I often found myself re-reading chapters just to soak it all up. Fans of airport novels likely won't enjoy it. But it is really an amazing, imaginative book, and one that you can sink your teeth into. Buy it now.
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on October 18, 1998
i read it in Turkish translation... it is one of these "brick" books... what kind of a book it is? hmmmmmmmmm... the most breathtaking mystery i have ever read... imagine a book telling the story of just a second of an apartment house in hundreds of pages and you die to read the end of it... incomparable...
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on April 13, 2010
Don't expect to finish this book in a few days. It's dense reading, but entertaining.
It reminds me of Nabokov; Perec plays word games while he tells his overlapping
and intertwined stories.
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