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Life: A User's Manual
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Life: A User's Manual

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  7,383 ratings  ·  688 reviews
Life: A User's Manual is an unclassified masterpiece, a sprawling compendium as encyclopedic as Dante's Commedia and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and, in its break with tradition, as inspiring as Joyce's Ulysses. Perec's spellbinding puzzle begins in an apartment block in the XVIIth arrondissement of Paris where, chapter by chapter, room by room, like an onion being peeled, ...more
Paperback, 581 pages
Published October 1988 by David R. Godine, Publisher (first published May 15th 1978)
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Tony The character of Barlebooth travels the world for 20 years, painting watercolour pictures of ports. He sends these back to France to be converted into…moreThe character of Barlebooth travels the world for 20 years, painting watercolour pictures of ports. He sends these back to France to be converted into jigsaws. On his return, he solves the jigsaws and uses a chemical solution to 're-bind' them into paintings. Each painting, on the 20th anniversary of its creation, is dissolved, leaving only a white board. In short, he devotes his life to something that leaves absolutely no impression on the world.

There's slightly more to it than this, but I don't want to spoil things in case you ever read the book...(less)

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Steven Godin

The first time I laid eyes on Georges Perec (not too dissimilar from his profile photo) many wild thoughts went through my head, a former child genius maybe, who had a nervous breakdown, ran away from home and was taken in by a religious cult that wore white robes and worshipped the moons of Jupiter, or a crazy scientist who spent far too much time in a dingy basement playing around with bunsen-burners and messing with chemical formulas, or how about a quite brilliant eccentric piano player who
Feb 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kickass, reviews

Last night after I had finished reading this book, there still lingered a smile on my face. I had read last 100-ish pages in a rush. It was only after I finished reading and put the book down that I realized that I was going to miss this charming book.

After hearing out little anecdotes and life stories of a multitude of characters, after reliving moments of their lives through their stories, it is now time to say our goodbyes. I stand at the doorstep waving my hand and watching those figures shr
Feb 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: infinite-books
Another example of one of those rare works that seemingly contain Everything, Life does not lend itself to brief summation. Like one of those tiny foam dinosaurs that grow to a humongous size when soaked in water (is that really the best simile I can come up with? jesus...), after closing the last of its 600 pages I still feel it expanding. Just look at the appendices. Hundreds of characters, over hundreds of years, hundreds of stories, hundreds of interconnections, all planned down to the centi ...more
Apr 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Let’s be clear from the outset, ‘Life a User’s Manual’ is my favourite book of all time. It's everything a novel should or ever could be. Big characters, ripping yarns, wonderful descriptions, word play, structural experimentation and a sad truth at its heart...

It’s an existentialist work, in essence, tempered by its humanitarian outlook, but a book nonetheless about the pointlessness of human endeavour. The labours of the many characters contained here generally come to naught.

And it’s a book
Dec 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone with a pulse and a smidgen of curiosity and intelligence about the world.
Recommended to Stacy by: ryan platt
i may have mentioned this before, but i had an ephiphanal reader experience last fall. last fall i was lucky enough to score a ticket to hear salman rushdie read at cornell. the experience left me not only with a hankering to read sir rushdie, but also to make a solemn promise to myself to read "less crap." a disclaimer: i don't think that any of what i read is actually "crap" but that my promise to myself was invoking rather a desire to put myself forward at least a fraction of the distance tha ...more
Lee Klein
Dec 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
By about page 200, this was firmly in my top 10 fave books. By the end, it seemed to me like a clear-cut canonical biggie (eg, Moby Dick, Infinite Jest, 2666, Ulysses), but better natured than these -- also, it didn't seem like much of a chip was trying to be knocked off the authorial shoulder. Joyce took on Shakespeare, DFW tried to depose the postmodernist phallocracy, but Perec seems more at peace. It's like Beckett's sucking stones section in Molloy: elaborate, infinitely detailed processes ...more
MJ Nicholls
List of items in my bathroom: abacus, bouzouki once strummed by Warren Ellis, cauliflowers in brocade, Dungeons & Dragoons strategy wargame for Windows ’95, elf ears, Farsi medical dictionary, gorgonzola, Hunter S. Thompson commemorative pineapple, inkwell, Jenga set, knitting needle made from yarn, Lemsip in cherry and chocolate flavours, mangle, nachos, octopus-patterned duvet cover, Peter Andre poster circa Mysterious Girl, quicksand, rum, salsa shoes, Total Recall 4-DVD set, Ulysses in Every ...more

Recommended for: Readers looking for something 'DIFFERENT'.

Georges Perce brought his multifaceted* talent to this amazing book Life A User’s Manual . Nine years in the making, it won him the Prix Médicis & a solid international credential.
An offbeat, quirky tale, its cumulative effect is staggering! Approach its playful inventiveness appreciatively & it'll prove to be a rewarding read. Feel bogged down by its endless lists of objects & paraphernalia, and you won't make much headway.

An Oulipian
Paul Bryant
A pre-review

This big novel has been on my (physical) shelf for years, it feels almost indecent to pick it up and actually begin it. Especially when I don't think I'll like it. Which is a shame, because I like the idea of Georges Perec, and I like the photo of him in the front here. I like the cut of his jib. He has a cat on his shoulder. So, I'll give it 100 pages. Then I expect I'll say something like: Georges Perec is the larval stage of the French whimsy which became the butterfly of Jean-Pie
Nick Craske
George Perec’s novel was published in French in 1978 and first published in English in 1987. This could not have been an easy assignment for the translator.

The opening quotation, 'Look with all your eyes, look.’ —quoting Jules Verne— is both an allusion to the wonder of both deciphering how we see the world and how we remember what we have seen. Or think we have seen...

This glorious, delectable visual feast of a novel, is constructed in the manner of an elaborate jigsaw puzzle. Perec’s canvas an
Life: A User's Manual

I seek the eternal and the ephemeral

Having just closed the book, I feel a bunch of things. Perec captures a certain moment in time in the lives of the residents of a certain building and gives us the most detailed description of this snapshot. Lists upon lists and descriptions upon descriptions of apartments, rooms, people, paintings and objects that compose this moment which, as is the case with all moments, doesn't consist only of present elements, but also ones that belon
Vit Babenco
Nov 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Life: A User's Manual is the absolute and fundamental treatise on the theme of jigsaw puzzles where every chapter is a piece in a puzzle – a fragment of a house, a tessera of the cosmic mosaic.
“The room’s walls are painted in white gloss. Several framed posters are hanging on them. One of them depicts four greedy-looking monks sitting at table around a Camembert cheese on the label of which four greedy-looking monks – the very same – are again at table around, etc. The scene is repeated distinct
Aug 28, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I used to be able to file a book without a rating: what happened? I don't want to give this book one or any stars: its not that its a bad book, its just not for me. I never liked Gabriel Garcia's 100 years nor Robert Altman's Short Cuts: the formula just doesn't do it for me: I can't take multiple narrative threads, hundreds of characters, all running around hither and thither like headless chickens till it does my head in and I don't know whats what, objects and stories and protags multiplying ...more
Apr 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes you read a book at the perfect time. This is simultaneously the perfect book for winter binge reading and also the perfect book for fifteen minutes bus rides at the beginning and end of the day.

One could argue that there is some overarching/subterranean narrative tying this whole behemoth of a novel together - people grab onto the Bartlebooth saga with the jigsaw puzzles and the landscape water colors - but in truth this book is a compendium of wide-ranging stories all containing some
Life, a never ending puzzle
A manual of a machine usually begins with the description of the parts and then shows how the machine works. The French writer Georges Perec (1936-1982) does more or less the same in this voluminous 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 foreword Perec offers a key to read this book: to look at
Jun 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Simultaneously so massive and yet so minute, allow a quick consulting of your Anti-Oedipus and then bring this to resolution. This novel brought considerable warmth and a curious attention to matters. Much like black bean hummus. Don't eat this book. Such requires a chuckle as I type. ...more
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very original book. 99 chapters, each containing something else. You can practically read this book starting with what chapter you want and then go in a random fashion and it won't be a problem.
The descriptions of Perec are almost photographic, they really challenge your power of imagination. He starts at the door and then goes deep and describes something written in a book which is shown in a photograph held by a guy who is in a painting. Something like that.
The characters of Perec
Aug 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who exists
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 ...more
Jean-Marc Bonet
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I will never think of an apartment building the same way again. Or Perec for that matter, who I have given up on before, not this time.

An astonishing, inventive masterpiece. Will live long in the memory.
Dec 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
You have to make it through the first 50 pages, which are heavy sledding. But then, somehow, it took off (for me, at least).

Which surprised the hell out of me, to be honest. Because normally I just can't abide descriptions of furniture, and rooms and stuff -- I tend to skim right over it. Perec spends an inordinate amount of space in describing the furnishings, when he's not making up amusingly wacky lists, or telling another shaggy dog story about some guy getting fleeced or murdered or jilted
Paul Dembina
Oct 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyed this much more 2nd time around having no expectations.
Adam Floridia
What is this book? It’s a picture. A picture cut into pieces—like a jigsaw puzzle—for the reader to reassemble. They say “a picture is worth 1,000 words”? Well, Perec’s picture is worth approximately 238,560 words (I counted the words on one page and multiplied by the number of pages, hence the “approximately). So what is this massive picture? Well, it’s
(view spoiler)
Now, I loved this book so why don't I recommend it to everyone? Let me try to tell you - this is a book about the people who live (or have lived) in an appartment building in Paris in the 20th century. Their lives and stories twist and tangle and intertwine and breaks up again. Every part of the book is valued equal - that means, that a chaper can be a list of objects found on the staircase and another - just as important! - chapter can be the story of how the daughter of one of the residents go ...more
Oct 20, 2010 rated it did not like it
Abandoning novels feels sort of cruel, like letting a whole bunch of people just fade out of your life without trying hard enough to get to know them, so generally speaking if I get past the first chapter I won't give up on a novel. It does happen though: Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire and Marcel Proust’s The Guermantes Way come to mind, so at least my abandoned novels are fairly diverse. With regret, 200 pages in, I’m adding George Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual to the melancholy little li ...more
Sep 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Have you chosen your purpose or fallen into it, unaware? Have you seen it through, abandoned it, or failed? Has your purpose changed? Do you have a purpose, or is it just the story of your life, cobbled together into a haphazard narrative? Do your possessions reveal something about your psychology? Your experiences? Or are your accumulated trinkets, your environment, your home, a disorganized and ill-considered catalog? Didn't you receive a Manual when you started this whole thing? ...more

The painter and collage-ist Robert Rauschenberg came of age during the heyday of abstract expressionism in the New York scene; and while his own work involves a similar level of abstraction (as, for example, 1954's Charlene, pictured above), he often found himself at odds with the dominant rhetoric of the "tortured artist." "There was something about the self-confession and self-confusion of abstract expressionism," he says, "that personally always put me off."

There was a whole language tha
Jan 27, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-fiction
Well, hi there Goodreads! How have you been? It’s been about five months since I’ve reviewed a book. Hopefully that’ll be understandable after the following review.

First off, I’ve been writing an essay. Writing slows down my reading. That’ll be important below.

I’m going to use one of those little spoiler cut lines here. This is my idea of irony, because there’s no plot to spoil, since there's no plot at all. Oh, there's characters, and places, but if forty pages were missing from your copy, you
Sep 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
A remarkable achievement. The book captures one moment in an upscale Parisian apartment building, the significance of that instant revealed only at the end. Every chapter describes one of the hundred rooms of the building (with the exception of one cellar), completely frozen in time. Hence, because everything is motionless, much of the book is pure description of books, paintings, chairs, shelves, ceilings, curios, blotters, menus, puzzles, ads, recipes, lists, and much, much more.

Normally, thi
Sep 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beyond its status as the Ur-text of encyclopedic maximalism in postmodern literature, or its summation of the Oulipo movement, comprising a stunningly intricate structure of interlocking constraints (most notably the movement of the Knight's Tour as a formation for the gestalt architecture of the novel), Perec's crowning work is, at its core, a love letter to art, literature, the humanities—all the while acknowledging (and celebrating) their vacancies of telos outside of aesthetic measures. The ...more
Oct 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
To that old imponderable question, "If you were going to be stranded on a desert island, and you could only take one book with you...?" I now have my answer. Because I think that it would probably take decades of rereading to completely exhaust this book. It's not that it's full of lofty or difficult ideas. It's just full. I was on about page 235 when suddenly realized that embedded within the sections, the book is rife with puzzles! I didn't go around trying to solve them, but I did congratulat ...more
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Georges Perec was a highly-regarded French novelist, filmmaker, and essayist. He was a member of the Oulipo group. Many of his novels and essays abound with experimental wordplay, lists, and attempts at classification, and they are usually tinged with melancholy.

Born in a working-class district of Paris, Perec was the only son of Icek Judko and Cyrla (Schulewicz) Peretz, Polish Jews who had emigra

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“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 the puzzler makes, the puzzlemaker 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.” 25 likes
“I have neither one nor the other, and that has been going on for so long now that I have stopped wondering whether it is hate or love which gives us the strength to continue this life of lies, which provides the formidable energy that allows us to go on suffering, and hoping.” 13 likes
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