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Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin) Paperback – August 1, 1998

4.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French

About the Author

John Sturrock is a writer and critic who has previously translated Victor Hugo, Stendhal, and Rimbaud. A consulting editor at the London Review of Books, he lives in West Sussex, England.

John Sturrock is a writer and critic who has previously translated Victor Hugo, Stendhal, and Rimbaud. A consulting editor at the London Review of Books, he lives in West Sussex, England.


John Sturrock is a writer and critic who has previously translated Victor Hugo, Stendhal, and Rimbaud. A consulting editor at the London Review of Books, he lives in West Sussex, England.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (August 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140189866
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140189865
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,399,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
As the author of the world's longest palindrome and other literary feats, Perec's phenomenal linguistic skills and imagination remain incomparable. His works, however, on not merely experiments within the constraints of language; I am not as impressed with his ability to write a 300-page novel without a single letter "e" as much as his endearing sense of humor and humanity. "Species of Spaces" stands as a critical piece of his oeuvre in that it serves as a primer of sorts for his other major works, like a meta-text or map of his other works. Beyond this function, though, lies a vision of what literature can be, beyond genre. Perec explores the spaces we inhabit, beginning with the most evident, the page itself on which he writes (and you read), and "zooming out" into ever grander scales: the apartment, the street, the city, the country, and the universe itself. He does not cease to inscribe himself in each of these spaces, for the crisis that drives this book is that Perec does not exist except in language, on the page, in the apartment, in the street, etc. Every act of writing is an existential re-affirmation, made poignant by the author's circumstances (Perec was the son of Holocaust victims). The darkness of his own history is mitigated, however, by these attempts to capture the here-and-now in writing.
This is a perfect book for the writer seeking inspiration, since the way Perec does not use language as a clunky tool but rather plays with it, tests its limits. Literature seems then not a struggle for self-expression but an exercise in creativity. Perec's approach is refreshing, original, and terribly underappreciated.
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This is the rare sort of book which may serve as a tonic. Reading it will make you more prone to interesting thoughts. More precise and specific thoughts. Reading Perec, I am reminded again how vastly more exciting it is to hear about the peculiarities of Universal Decimal Classification than about a failed love affair. (Perhaps because jilted lovers tend to speak in generalities and rarely, if ever, are inspired to keep it brief?)

To me, it seems natural and advisable to feel a little worried when people speak of experimental literature. But Perec is one of those savants whose experiments are also a swimmingly good time. (Who would you add to this list? Calvino, Markson, Mathews, Cortazar, Davis, Barthelme -- who else? Could you please add suggestions in the comments section so I know who to read?)

This book collects important works by a man who never seems to consider himself important. He is always playing, improvising and inviting. And it is so much fun. His essay "Think/Classify" which points out, then demonstrates, the impossibility (and joy) of classification is one of my favorite essays of all time. (Purists of the form will likely not consider it an essay, which is appropriately hilarious.)

What a pleasure it is to be confronted by a simple decision: if you enjoy Perec, you'll certainly want this book. If you are new to Perec -- and perhaps daunted by `LIFE: An Instruction Manual' -- this is a brilliant and engaging introduction. Here is found a great playful mind, ceaselessly experimenting in short snippets and flashes, a da Vinci in literary fireworks, hurrying from one invention/apparation to the next.
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After my second reading of "Species of Spaces" a couple of years ago, I decided I should read it once a year. As another reviewer says, Perec makes the everyday so interesting, and it makes us question the ways we interact with our immediate everyday world.
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When Georges Perec was 45, he said in an interview how writing from him was his way of living, that he couldn’t imagine a day without spending some hours writing, writing from him being a kind of struggle where he tries to undo the words and letters, sentences, paragraphs and book and reorganize them as a kind of game and play, as serious game and play . He went on to say how the books by authors he loved when he was in his 20s were like pieces of a puzzle but there was still space between the pieces and in those spaces is where he could write. He also went on to say how he would like to write everything in every way possible: including children’s books, science fiction, detective novels, cartoons, comedy, drama and film scripts and that at the end of his life he would like to have used all the words in the dictionary and also to create some of his own words. One can imagine all of the books Georges Perec would have written if he lived to be 86 instead of 46.

Has there ever been an author who celebrated language more than Georges Perec?-- language as celebration and as game and play? So, with all this in mind and as a way of reviewing this marvelous book, I will cite a few quotes from the first essay, Species of Spaces, along with my brief comments. For readers unfamiliar with this 95 page essay, the author addresses spaces moving from the micro to the macro: The Page, The Bed, The Bedroom, The Apartment, The Apartment Building, The Street, The Neighborhood, The Town, The Countryside, The Country, Europe, The World, Space.

The Page -- “This is how space begins, with words only, signs traced on the blank page.
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