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A Void (Verba Mundi) Paperback – November 30, 2005

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Editorial Reviews


I once had the occasion to write to the translator of these books, David Bellos, and I took the opportunity to let him know that Perec is my favorite writer, and that, since a translator is to a large extent the creative force behind a translated work, he, David Bellos, is also, in a palpable way, my favorite writer. Few writers have opened up the possibilities of literary art with as much enthusiasm, mastery, and pleasure as Perec. --Martin Riker, Associate Director of the Dalkey Archive Press

About the Author

Georges Perec (1936-82) won the Prix Renaudot in 1965 for his first novel Things: A Story of the Sixties, and went on to exercise his unrivalled mastery of language in almost every imaginable kind of writing, from the apparently trivial to the deeply personal. He composed acrostics, anagrams, autobiography, criticism, crosswords, descriptions of dreams, film scripts, heterograms, lipograms, memories, palindromes, plays, poetry, radio plays, recipes, riddles, stories short and long, travel notes, univocalics, and, of course, novels. Life: A User's Manual, which draws on many of Perec's other works, appeared in 1978 after nine years in the making and was acclaimed a masterpiece to put beside Joyce's Ulysses. It won the Prix Medicis and established Perec's international reputation.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: David R Godine (November 30, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1567922961
  • ISBN-13: 978-1567922967
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #203,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
You may think that a book omitting a particular character (okay, I can't do this without the letter "e") may get monotonous. But the book held my interest with a good plot, characters, and development. It catches the reader off guard with twists and turns and resolves with a conclusion that leaves no loose ends and provides a very satisfied feeling in the reader.

A few caveats; take your time reading it, don't be afraid to read something again, and researching some of the influences on Perec's life that affected how the book was written open up a new dimension to A Void (I know this because I did a paper on the themes and influences present in the book).
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Format: Paperback
A Void is a fifty-thousand-word lipogram (writing which unfailingly omits a particular orthographic symbol) posing as a work of fiction. I'm sorry, but I simply cannot put in a good word for this book. Just trying to slog through it was causing such an aching pain in my skull that I almost quit. How I wish I had! Arriving at its conclusion didn't accomplish anything significant for my mind or spirit.

It is just plain silly to churn out paragraph upon paragraph of a story bound by such an artificial and arbitrary linguistic constraint. Why would anybody do such a thing? To show off an ability with a dubious "skill" that confounds clarity of thinking and prohibits lucid points? Obviously by dropping this childish limitation you could actually say what you want, and in a lyrical or charming way to boot. This is not to imply that all constraint is a sign of immaturity. Rhyming and rhythm may constrain an author a bit, but a truly high-quality group of such stanzas contains a captivating kind of music. It is a constraint, all right, but it adds. This kind, though, just subtracts, corrupts, and distorts.

As it stands, this book's grammar sounds unnatural and awkward; its vocabulary shifts without warning from archaic and formal to "hip" and slangy; its plot (a minor thing, almost a postscript) absurdly twists and turns to satisfy our all-important typographical constraint. That's all okay, I'll grant, if this activity is just a hobby and its author aims only for gratification of his own abnormal soul. But inflicting this inanity of wordplay on a broad population is wholly unsatisfactory. Only a totally masochistic bookworm would gladly put up with it, gaily consuming a full publication with only this frivolous trick as its basis.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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3 Comments 39 of 52 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
How do you write coherently about a book that was equal parts frustrating and marvelous? It's probably best to start with its author, Georges Perec, who started out as the bane of my existence but I'm happy to report is on my list of authors that I admire. Perec was a French writer and a member of Oulipo from 1969 to his death in 1982. Though I have yet to read his other works (novels, play, poetry, and opera librettos, even), it is easy to see why Perec is considered a "literary experimentalist."

A Void is a literary feat: it is, in short, a novel written without a single E in its 300 pages. While Life a Users Manual is considered his magnum opus, A Void stands as a triumph in taking a constraint, the lipogram, and making it work in long form fiction. And beyond that, Perec found that the constraint provided a means to break free of our ideas of what could be done with fiction.

"My ambition, as Author, my point, I would go so far as to say my fixation, my constant fixation, was primarily to concoct an artifact as original as it was illuminating, an artifact that would, or just possibly might, act as a stimulant on notions of construction, of narration, of plotting, of action, a stimulant, in a word, on fiction-writing today."

Anton Vowl is the subject of this novel; or, more accurately, his disappearance serves as a catalyst for this literary whodunit that leads his friends on a twisting and turning path, following half clues and false paths. In this essay on reading Perec, Warren Motte points to voids in Perec's own life--namely, his parents:

"On the other hand, 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.
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