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Life, a User's Manual Spine 2013 > Discussion - Week Two - Life, A User's Manual - Part Two

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message 1: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3055 comments Mod
This discussion covers Part Two, p. 91 – 227

Perec begins Part Two with a lengthy description of Bartlebooth’s great uncle, who may not have been a patsy after all, then a great description of Madame Moreau’s showcase apartment, and then a detailed analysis of Madame Marcia’s antique stock handling process, and then, etc….

Now if I can just remember which apartment has the cretonne wallpaper with the pastoral scene of a peasant tilling his field, I can figure out who Madame Marcia bought it from/sold it to…


Jenny (jennyil) | 54 comments I read the book all the way through and then went back and reread some of the chapters that were all about the same apartment or the same people.


message 3: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3055 comments Mod
Jenny wrote: "I read the book all the way through and then went back and reread some of the chapters that were all about the same apartment or the same people."

Interesting strategy. Was it useful in "solving" the puzzle?


Mark (mab1) | 29 comments Jenny wrote: "I read the book all the way through and then went back and reread some of the chapters that were all about the same apartment or the same people."

Useful, Jenny. I've taken to using the index. Whenever I come to a chapter where the "owner" was mentioned in an earlier segment, I re-read that part. It's helped me connect a few good dots.


message 5: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3055 comments Mod
The histories are a lot deeper in this part of the book. The description of Bartlebooth's lifetime "project" is a stunning piece of writing in its implications. Haunting, in a way.

As each puzzle was finished, the seascape would be "retexturized" so that it could be removed from its backing, returned to the place where it had been painted - twenty years before - and dipped in a detergent solution whence would emerge a clean and unmarked sheet of Whatman paper.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust...


Mark (mab1) | 29 comments That was the first time I felt a real tie to the title of the novel, Jim, a set of life instructions to us all.


Sosen | 38 comments Although I love the histories of the tenants, the high point for me so far is the chapter "On the Stairs 3". I love the paragraph starting with "Sometimes Valéne had the feeling that time had been stopped", and the description of the planning around the inevitable eviction and destruction of the building. I didn't notice it until this chapter, but it's interesting that there's an increased perspective from Valéne - if there's a main character at all, it must be him.


Jenny (jennyil) | 54 comments Jim wrote: "Jenny wrote: "I read the book all the way through and then went back and reread some of the chapters that were all about the same apartment or the same people."

Interesting strategy. Was it useful..."


There are multiple puzzles and I didn't try too hard to solve them. I think that Perec was very interested in mathematical puzzles as well as playing with language so I think that the number of items on the different lists and how many things were in the apartments is important. I really got interested in the different stories and how they were interconnected.

I like complicated books, but I left a lot of my willingness to spend the time on detailed textual analysis behind when I finished college.


message 9: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3055 comments Mod
James wrote: "Although I love the histories of the tenants, the high point for me so far is the chapter "On the Stairs 3". I love the paragraph starting with "Sometimes Valéne had the feeling that time had been ..."

Valéne definitely seems to be the historian or Greek chorus of the book so far.

Yes, his musings on the illusion of permanence about buildings is well done.


message 10: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3055 comments Mod
Jenny wrote: "There are multiple puzzles and I didn't try too hard to solve them. I think that Perec was very interested in mathematical puzzles as well as playing with language so I think that the number of items on the different lists and how many things were in the apartments is important. I really got interested in the different stories and how they were interconnected.

I like complicated books, but I left a lot of my willingness to spend the time on detailed textual analysis behind when I finished college..."


Perec was very much expressing his Oulipian colors in this book, which he dedicated to the founder, Raymond Queneau. Prior to this book, I've only read his An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, which is kind of a precursor to this book now that I think about it, and I'm realizing that as strong as the math and puzzles and constraints are in his work, Perec is equally concerned with the "art" of his story-telling, and really digging deep into human experience and feeling.

Regarding the analysis, I'm tempted to look through the charts and maps and what-not, but every time I read a chapter, I'm completely enchanted by the prose and don't want to break the spell by dragging a microscope into the moment, if you know what I mean...


message 11: by Mala (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mala | 283 comments Jim wrote:"Now if I can just remember which apartment has the cretonne wallpaper with the pastoral scene of a peasant tilling his field, I can figure out who Madame Marcia bought it from/sold it to… "

Jim,I hope you were not joking cause I actually tried to find out:
Marquiseaux,1: Chapter 4,page 37:
"On the wall, an imitation of Jouy cretonne wallpaper depicts big sailing ships." Sorry,no peasant tilling the land!


message 12: by Mala (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mala | 283 comments Book Two is indeed heavy on background stories–makes one almost wonder if Bartlebooth's absurd monomania isn't just like a repeat of his great-uncle James Sherwood's obsession with 'unicum' & to that end, might not he too willingly fall for a scam?
"Ursula Sobieski often came to wonder whether Sherwood hadn’t guessed from the start that he was being mystified: whether he had paid up not for the vase but for the staging, allowing himself to be hooked by the bait, responding to the programme scripted by the so-called Shaw with an appropriate combination of gullibility, doubt, and enthusiasm, and finding such play-acting a more powerful palliative for his melancholy than the search for a real treasure would have been." P.140


Honestly,Bartlebooth's three guiding principles make no sense to me! His whole life project,beginning in nothing & ending in nothing, is ,as if he were putting an Oulipian constraint on his own life!
In a curious way,Bartlebooth's bewilderment mirrors the readers' own sense of frustration & bafflement as they try to make some sense out of this onslaught of endless objects: The book has become a hall of mirrors.
"For Bartlebooth, they were now only bizarre playing-pieces in an interminable game, of which he had ended up forgetting the rules, who his opponent was, and what the stake was, and the bet: little wooden bits whose capricious contours fed his nightmares, the sole material substance of a lonely and bloody-minded replay, the inert, inept, and merciless components of an aimless quest. Majunga was neither a town nor a port, it was not a heavy sky, a strip of lagoon, a horizon dog-toothed by warehouses and cement works, it was only seven hundred and fifty variations on grey, incomprehensible splinters of a bottomless enigma, the sole images of a void which no memory, no expectation would ever come to fill, the only props of his self-defeating illusion."P.176

As the best review of Darconville's Cat suggested–instead of getting mired in Theroux's lexical wizardry,hold on tight to the lovestory– ditto here- follow the story & let the objects take care of themselves!


message 13: by Mala (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mala | 283 comments Here's the third theme–Valène's ( "the longest inhabitant of the house")project :

"Sometimes Valène had the feeling that time had been stopped, suspended, frozen around he didn’t know what expectation. The very idea of the picture he planned to do and whose laid-out, broken-up images had begun to haunt every second of his life, furnishing his dreams, squeezing his memories, the very idea of this shattered building laying bare the cracks of its past, the crumbling of its present, this unordered amassing of stories grandiose and trivial, frivolous and pathetic, gave him the impression of a grotesque mausoleum raised in the memory of companions petrified in terminal postures as insignificant in their solemnity as they were in their ordinariness, as if he had wanted both to warn of and to delay these slow or quick deaths which seemed to be engulfing the entire building storey by storey." P.176

I agree with James & Jim that Valène seems to be the consciousness of this novel– Chapters dealing with On the Stairs are Valène's section- from this common area,he is observing & recounting the life of the building. All his sections are incredibly moving & are perhaps the best parts of Perec's writing.


message 14: by Mala (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mala | 283 comments False Clues?
Chapter 29 Third Floor Right, 2 shows the scene after a birthday party but earlier in chapter 3,Third Floor Right,1, page 36, we read : "Nobody lives on the third floor right. The owner is a certain Monsieur Foureau,(...)Nobody ever seems to have seen him. There is no name on the door on the landing, nor on the list fixed on the glass pane of the concierge’s office door. The blinds are always drawn."

In the Preamble,we came across these lines :"The organised, coherent, structured signifying space of the picture is cut up not only into inert, formless elements containing little information or signifying power, but also into falsified elements, carrying false information."
So what exactly is happening here? Is it a scene from the past for it couldn't really be happening in the present?! Any ideas? Are there more such traps/false clues laid here & there to hoodwink the careless reader?


message 15: by Mala (last edited Aug 31, 2013 02:37AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mala | 283 comments Of all the residents of this building,Madam Moreau is perhaps the only one whose home doesn't reflect her personality.
"Madame Moreau has never told Fleury what she thinks of his work."P.146
The selection of curios & rare objects by the interior designer give a glimpse into the life of the super rich- they are so weird! Admittedly,they work well as conversation starters for the specific groups of people that they are aimed at but a red skeleton of a young pig- the most curiosity-inducing one,how strange!
One display in particular is like a comment on the book itself– The Doll's House- with its minutiae of details, life-like simulation, is like looking at 11 RUE SIMON-CRUBELLIER!
I'm surprised though– what are fabulously wealthy folks like Madam Moreau & Rorschach doing in this old,run down building!?
Chapter thirty-three,Basement,1 concerning the cellars,is amazing for the amount of details & also the contrast shown in the condition of the two cellars. The one owned by the Altamonts could feed the entire building! And to think that family comprises only of a monther,daughter & a constantly travelling father! Won't all that stored food go bad? Their wine collection will sure make Jim envious :p


message 16: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3055 comments Mod
Mala wrote: "Jim wrote:"Now if I can just remember which apartment has the cretonne wallpaper with the pastoral scene of a peasant tilling his field, I can figure out who Madame Marcia bought it from/sold it to..."

Nope, I wasn't joking. There was a description of this exact wallpaper somewhere in Part One. Maybe someone with a ebook can search on "cretonne"...


message 17: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3055 comments Mod
Mala wrote: "Of all the residents of this building,Madam Moreau is perhaps the only one whose home doesn't reflect her personality.
"Madame Moreau has never told Fleury what she thinks of his work."P.146
The ..."


True, except for her bedroom, which is her private space. The apartment, then, becomes a material representation of her psyche. Her real self - simple country woman - is expressed in private space of the bedroom. Her artificial self - successful businesswoman - is expressed in the rest of the apartment; the public space/face. Perec is clever that way, non?


message 18: by Mala (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mala | 283 comments Jim wrote: "Mala wrote: "Jim wrote:"Now if I can just remember which apartment has the cretonne wallpaper with the pastoral scene of a peasant tilling his field, I can figure out who Madame Marcia bought it fr..."

Jim,I'm reading an ebook & in Part 1 this flat was the only one using cretonne wallpaper,the Altamont's was a painted wallpaper with scenes from India.


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