Georges Perec Criticism - Essay

Elizabeth Easton (review date 13 April 1968)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "All or Nothing," in Saturday Review, Vol. LI, No. 15, April 13, 1968, pp. 46-7.

[In the following short review, Easton discusses the plot and style of Les choses.]

This seems to be the era of the non-fiction novel—first Truman Capote's, then Norman Mailer's, and now, on a much smaller scale, one by Georges Perec. For while Les choses is subtitled "A Story of the Sixties," it is closer to a case history than to fiction. Jérôme and Sylvie, the young Parisian couple on whom the account centers, remain two-dimensional. Never once in the book's 125 pages do they speak for themselves; there is no dialogue. M. Perec tells the reader rather than shows him;...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Leon S. Roudiez (essay dale 1972)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Georges Perec," in French Fiction Revisited, Dalkey Archive Press, 1972, pp. 290-305.

[In the following essay, Roudiez analyses the subject and style of Perec's major works. He shows the emphasis of the author's early life and his association with the OuLiPo in the recurring theme of identity.]

By 1972, Perec was known for having produced four variegated works of fiction, each one seeming like the first book of different writers. Les Choses (1965; Things) is subtitled "Une histoire des années 60," a narrative that could make one think of Stendhal and his chronicle of the 1830s. If the reference was intentional, however, it could only have been...

(The entire section is 7884 words.)

Kaye Mortley (interview date August 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Doing of Fiction," in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Spring 1993, pp. 23-9.

[In the following interview from 1981, conducted in English, Mortley questions Perec about his theories of fiction.]

[Perec:] I began writing, I was twenty about. I am now forty-five and I think I learn how to write. I know how to write stories and even poetry and dramas, I could say, and it's my way of living in a sense. I can't imagine a life in which I won't spend some hours every day writing. I can't say exactly why I started writing. I can say now that I am in great familiarity with language and it's a kind of, I could say, struggle. I began with French language and fiction...

(The entire section is 3412 words.)

Gabriel Josipovici (review date 30 October-5 November 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Celebrations In a House of Fiction" in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4413, October 30-November 5, 1987, pp. 1191-92.

[In the following review, Josipovici favorably reviews Life: A User's Manual, but finds fault with the English translation by David Bellows.]

As with most major artists there is an exemplary quality about the life of Georges Perec: the contingent and the arbitrary have been transmuted into the resonant and meaningful. He was born in France in 1936 of immigrant Polish Jewish parents and was an orphan by the age of six, his father killed in 1940 fighting for his adopted country and his mother deported by the Nazis in 1943. Brought up by an...

(The entire section is 2853 words.)

Mark Ford (review date 2 February 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pretzel," in London Review of Books, Vol. 11, No. 3, February 2, 1989, pp. 15-17.

[In the following review, Ford briefly summarizes several of Perec's works. He then provides a comparison of Perec's personal history to the events in W, or, the Memory of Childhood.]

These are the first of Georges Perec's wonderful and extraordinary writings to be translated into English. Perec has been a household name in France since the runaway success of his first and most popular novel, Les Choses (1965), which still sells twenty thousand copies a year. Les Choses describes, with a sociological exactitude justified in the novel's concluding quotation from...

(The entire section is 3878 words.)

Mereille Ribière (essay date March 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Doing Theory," in Paragraph, Vol. 12, No. 1, March 1989, pp. 56-64.

[In the following essay, Ribière questions the effectiveness and appropriateness of some of Perec's self-imposed literary constraints. Ribière suggests that, by not making clear what constraints were in effect in various works, Perec was working counter to the bond he wished to forge with the reader.]

Georges Perec stressed his concern for the practice rather than the theory of literature as witness two statements separated by an interval of eleven years:

La fonction de l'écrivain est d'écrire et non de penser; et même si l'on peut accorder quelque...

(The entire section is 2612 words.)

Partrick Parrinder (review date 10 January 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Funny Old Fame," in London Review of Books, Vol. 13, No. 1, January 10, 1991, p. 18.

[In the following excerpt, Parrinder reviews a recent translation of Things and A Man Asleep.]

Once upon a time, before the Channel Tunnel was built, there were two contemporary French novelists. Georges Perec died in 1982 at the age of 45, and nobody in England who was not a French specialist had ever heard of him. With Philippe Sollers it was different. Editor of the avant-garde theoretical journal Tel Quel, and associate of literary and psychoanalytic thinkers such as Barthes, Kristeva and Lacan, his was a name of which no self-respecting British intellectual...

(The entire section is 1300 words.)

Francis King (review date 21 November 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Held by the Dead Hand of a Dictator," in The Spectator, Vol. 269, No. 8576, November 21, 1992, p. 49.

[In the following review, King suggests that the posthumous publication of Perec's unfinished mystery novel, 52 Days, was the result of Perec's reputation as a genius, and that the work is without significant literary merit.]

Some people in this country and many people in France ascribe genius to Georges Perec. On the basis of his Life, A User's Manual ('a transcendent achievement' we were assured by the Daily Telegraph, 'one of the great novels of the century' by the Times Literary Supplement), they may well be right.


(The entire section is 1030 words.)

John Taylor (review date 27 November 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Sense of An Ending," in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4678, November 27, 1992, p. 25.

[In the following review, Taylor notes the influences of Stendhal and his novel La Chartreuse de Parma, on Perec's unfinished mystery 53 Days.]

There is something poignant about the elaborate narrative structure of 53 Days, the novel on which Georges Perec was working at the time of his death from lung cancer in 1982. Racing against time (the title refers to the fifty-three days it took Stendhal to dictate La Chartreuse de Parme), Perec builds this increasingly paranoiac literary thriller into an intricate labyrinth of "nested narratives". Indeed,...

(The entire section is 774 words.)

Irving Malin (review date Summer 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Georges Perec. A Void," in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 15, No. 2, Summer 1993, pp. 200-01.

[In the following review, Malm suggests that the missing "e" in the lipogram A Void is symbolic of the loss of loved ones.]

It is impossible to convey the oddities and beauties of this text. There are plots within plots, mysteries within mysteries, times within times, shadows within shadows. The text is, in a sense, a whirlpool. Perec, in effect, wants to suggest that language (is there a world within a word?) is an attempt to convey consciousness; it is the "bond" that connects us (even though we take words for granted). By compelling us to...

(The entire section is 541 words.)

Karen R. Smith (review date Fall 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Allegory and Autobiography: Georges Perec's Narrative Resistance to Nostalgia," in The Journal of Narrative Technique, Vol. 23, No. 3, Fall 1993, pp. 201-10.

[In the following review of W ou Le Souvenir d'Enfance, Smith focuses on the novel's allegorical structure. She suggests that Perec's intention is to show that the creation of a narrative is an attempt to give coherent meaning to the chaos of the past.]

In the context of Georges Perec's postmodern œuvre, which consists of novels that demonstrate through playful manipulation the pliability of language and narrative as media of communication, his autobiographical W ou Le Souvenir...

(The entire section is 4312 words.)

Harvy Pekar (review date Summer 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "George Perec. Things: A Story of the Sixties/A Man Asleep," in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 11, No. 2, Summer 1994, pp. 233-34.

[In the following review, Pekar summarizes the plots of Things and A Man Asleep. He is particularly impressed by Perec's descriptions of the sleeping state.]

In looking over Perec's longer literary projects it's amazing how little each of them has in common with the others. Things, previously issued by Grove Press in a different translation as Les choses, is almost a sociological study centering on a deliberately gentricized, dilettante Parisian couple, Jerome and Sylvie, their constant...

(The entire section is 609 words.)

John Sturrock (review date 10 November 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "E-less in Gaza," in The London Review of Books, Vol. 16, No. 21, November 10, 1994, p. 6.

[In the following review, Sturrock favorably compares Gilbert Adair's lipogrammatical translation of La Disparition to Perec's original French text.]

We hear a lot about floating signifiers and how they bob anchorless around on the deep waters of meaning; we hear too little about sinking signifiers, or language items that have stopped bobbing and been sent silently to the bottom, if not for the duration then at least provisionally, while we see how well we can do without them. To scuttle a signifier in this way is to play at lipograms, an elementary language game...

(The entire section is 2336 words.)

The Los Angeles Times (review date 12 February 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Tricky, Tricky," in The Los Angeles Times, February 12, 1995, p. 3.

[The following review discusses the effect of the e-less lipograms of Perec and his translator, Gilbert Adair.]

Snails. You'd want Gallic or Italian cooking to fix such a dish. You wouldn't call for it at lunch in Oslo, Omsk, Cardiff or Stuttgart; nor as an Alabama snail-fry with grits, nor smoking atop Oklahoma fatwood, nor in Cajun gumbo. And only a light hand such as that of this particular tricky and knotty Parisian author could bring off A Void: a total snail of a book in its spiral contortions, so that prying out its pith is both difficult and savory and (pry as you may) bits will...

(The entire section is 1161 words.)

Walter Abish (review date 12 March 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Vanishing Act," in Washington Post Book World, Vol. XXV, No. 11, March 12, 1995, p. 11.

[Walter Abish is an author and critic. In the following review, he suggests that the lipogram format of A Void is more than just an arbitrary constraint. It is, rather, an integral part of the meaning of the story.]

Georges Perec's preferred representation of life was the elusive, artfully constructed conundrum—an unlimited mystery that engages the reader as much as it animates, in several of his books, the very characters. The customary, the everyday is subsumed by the question, why, how and to what end? Questions that never receive a satisfactory response. In...

(The entire section is 1296 words.)

James R. Kincaid (review date 12 March 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Read My Lipograms," in New York Times Book Review, March 12, 1995, pp. 3, 30.

[In the following review, Kincaid focuses on the playfull nature of the lipogram form, and offers several examples.]

"OAF! Pinbrain! Numskull! Big fat ninny! Nincompoop! Half-wit!… Moron! Lazy good-for-nothing!" That's a passage from our novel. Notice anything odd about it? Read it aloud—but don't yell it at somebody. Then sing this song (karaoke background helps). It's the opening of the well-known and affecting "You-Can't-Attain-It Fantasy":

To fancy that unavailing apparition!
To fight that dirt-tough bad...

(The entire section is 2141 words.)

Daniel Gunn (review date 7 October 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "E-free," in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4475, October 7, 1996, p. 28.

[Gunn favorably reviews Gilbert Adair's translation of A Void.]

Reviewers of Gilbert Adair's splendid translation of Georges Perec's La Disparition find themselves—appropriately enough before a novel so concerned with contradiction and paradox, with "masking and unmasking"—at both an advantage and a disadvantage. They have an advantage over the reviewers of the 1969 French original, because they are spared the possible embarrassment of reading and then reviewing the book without noticing its structuring principle and implicit subject: the lack, throughout its 285 pages, of the...

(The entire section is 1095 words.)