Gary's Reviews > Life: A User's Manual

Life by Georges Perec
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May 30, 11

Read in March, 2010

It’s a fairly hefty book describing the history of the residents of a big block of flats in 1960s Paris. The prologue of the book describes the of-overlooked genius of ‘proper’ jigsaw puzzles, which sets both the tone and structure of the short chapters that follow. Each resident’s life interlocks with another - sometimes in a very direct manner, which both parties participating with their full knowledge, other times in a nebulous, hazy way that will never become obvious to two lifelong neighbours. I’ve heard that the travels from one room to another mirror those of a chess knight piece moving around each of the 64 squares on the chess board consecutively, but I’m not in any way smart enough to even know where to begin confirming this. I wouldn’t be surprised though, because both the central story (that of an eccentric billionaire who loves to paint) and the microstories dotted around him are frequently smart and hilarious.

Despite each chapter being relatively short, Perec takes his time to describe furniture and art decor, paintings and letters and office knickknacks. The writing is extremely rich and deep, and Perec is obviously a very cultured man. His writing is functional and if not beautiful, certainly aesthetically pleasing in a way that modern authors sometimes forget to be - humility and charm fill every page. There is no effort to be smart; it simply is. This is a book worth chewing over and, certainly in my case, something that will stand up well to repeat readings.
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