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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction / self-help

     

the art and craft
of approaching your
head of department
to submit a request
for a raise


(The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise)

by
Georges Perec


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise



Title: The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise
Author: Georges Perec
Genre: Fiction
Written: 1968 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 88 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise - US
the art and craft of approaching your [...] - UK
The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise - Canada
L'art et la manière d'aborder son chef [...] - Canada
The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise - India
L'art et la manière d'aborder son chef [...] - France
Über die Kunst seinen Chef anzusprechen [...] - Deutschland
L'arte e la maniera di affrontare il proprio capo [...] - Italia
  • French title: L'art et la manière d'aborder son chef de service pour lui demander une augmentation
  • US title: The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise
  • UK title: the art and craft of approaching your head of department to submit a request for a raise
  • Translated and with an Introduction by David Bellos

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Our Assessment:

-- : odd but fascinating little literary exercise

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Australian . 5/3/2011 Kevin Rabalais
Financial Times . 7/3/2011 Adrian Turpin
The Guardian . 11/6/2011 Steven Poole
Harvard Crimson . 29/3/2011 James K. McAuley
Irish Times . 9/4/2011 Eileen Battersby
NZZ . 5/12/2009 Georg Renöckl
The Scotsman . 2/4/2011 Stuart Kelly


  From the Reviews:
  • "An attempt to re-create computer language, the book is a surprisingly readable single sentence, containing no capital letters and almost no punctuation." - Kevin Rabalais, The Australian

  • "This first English edition is odd, sometimes affecting, and almost entirely devoid of punctuation" - Adrian Turpin, Financial Times

  • "either you find the looping style immediately so rebarbative that you cast the book to the floor and feyly lament your wasted cash or you find the style intriguing and continue reading let us for the sake of dramatic interest assume the latter in which case you soon realise that the story is a prose imitation of a flowchart or decision tree festooned as it is with if-then statements as well as that it lacks punctuation and paragraphing and capital letters too all of which eerily evokes an artificial mind running conditional algorithms to compute a narrative in which you the adventurer having decided to ask your boss for a raise are guided with a kind of monstrous sympathy along the forking paths of bureaucratic possibility" - Steven Poole, The Guardian

  • "(A) playful portrait of the neurotic corporate mind as it attempts to construct a logical template for financial success and -- in a more abstract sense -- human recognition. (...) As a witty indictment of corporate culture and an artifact from one of the 20th century’s most bizarre literary movements, Asking Your Boss -- as with all the works of Georges Perec -- is a puzzle too absurd not to explore." - James K. McAuley, Harvard Crimson

  • "As always with Perec, multiple subplots and digressions lurk beneath every observation. For all the comedy there is an astute sense of the desperation and fear running through the mind of the employee turned penitent. It is also about power -- or, rather, the lack of it. (...) Reading Perec’s amusing little narrative, a contender for the prize for the longest title in fiction, may not help you secure a salary increase, but it should ease the pain." - Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

  • "Perec macht aus dem witzigen Bild einen aberwitzigen Text. (...) Das mag nach intellektueller Selbstkasteiung klingen, liest sich aber höchst vergnüglich und überraschend -- Perec probiert keineswegs mechanisch Kombinationen durch, sondern variiert den Text lustvoll und virtuos." - Georg Renöckl, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "This little book, hitherto unavailable in English, is a neat introduction to Perec's work. It is short enough to be knocked back in one, and is probably best imbibed in a single swallow (it has no punctuation). (...) The stroke of Perecian genius is the decision not to have the story as someone following the programme, but someone trapped endlessly in the programme. Subtle hints build up, until we realise the character is about to retire and has spent their entire working life working up the confidence to ask for a raise (Perec's archival job was famously ill-remunerated). It turns the jeu d'esprit into a Kafka-esque parable rather than a joke that could be used in The Office." - Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In his Introduction to the art and craft of approaching your head of department to submit a request for a raise, translator (and Georges Perec-biographer) David Bellos writes:

     Translating a text which is close to being unreadable in the original is a paradoxical but not a particularly difficult task, since ordinary readability is hardly an issue.
       This might not be what (potential) readers of the text want to hear; still, one has to admire Bellos (and the editor and publisher who didn't redact that sentence, or move the Introduction to an afterword-position ...) their forthrightness. Fair warning is certainly welcome: those familiar with Perec are surely aware of some of the games he plays, but even by his lofty standards this is a ... challenging little volume, and certainly not your usual read.
       Bellos also helpfully describes the origins of the piece: around 1968 a French computer company sought out artists to "have a go at using the machines that it made"; Perec, not surprisingly, jumped at the chance -- though:
characteristically, he seems to have negotiated a number of changes to the ground-plan before he started.
       Using a flow-chart (reproduced on the book's endpapers, and well worth following) of the procedures and possible obstacles to an employee (trying to) go to his boss and asking for a raise as his template, Perec fashions a creative iterative second-person narrative that follows an employee in a strange corporate and computed loop. Rather than proceeding simply forward on some binary path, Perec conceives a more involved route -- indeed, his computing-thinking is quite far ahead of the times (the piece was written and first published in 1968, but only recently (2008) 'rediscovered') and quite visionary.
       Perec reminds readers of the black box-aspect of life with his own (well, Ionesco's) variation of Schrödinger's infamous cat:
we should never forget as eugene ionesco once said that when there's a ring on the doorbell sometimes someone is there and sometimes not the truth lying somewhere between the two
       Truth -- and action -- here constantly lie somewhere between the two, as all sorts of scenarios are spun out but few definitive positions reached; the binary absolutes of 1 and 0 remain ideals, but everything here lies between the two.
       Perec's protagonist wants to ask for a raise, but it's a daunting task, beginning with the question whether his boss -- head of department mr x -- is even at his desk, i.e. approachable, in the first place. Spinning out from that simple beginning, Perec has his hapless protagonist circumperambulate (a word taught to Bellos by his Latin master, even if not yet logged by any lexicographer, and which he is pleased to (repeatedly) use in his translation) in various spirals and thought-experiments of how to accomplish this simple-sounding task of asking for a raise. The possibilities of what and where one can go wrong or sidetracked -- from whether it is wise to ask about mr x's daughters or to mention measles to the worry of T60 issues confusing the question -- are many, and Perec plays many out, in many variations (in one fairly smooth and uncapitalized stream).
       There is, however, actual progress in the narrative (if not necessarily the protagonist's quest) too -- an almost actual story. More to the point, Perec's approach makes for a quite effective criticism of corporate culture and hierarchies, the protagonist a cog concerned about "organisational equilibrium" (meaning also, of course, not rocking the boat) but finding that longtime dutiful allegiance is hardly rewarded in any meaningful way (even though he's willing to settle for very little in terms of a raise).
       So also:
you have to grasp that in a company such as the one you work for one of the largest major companies in france a raise raises very complex issues not only with respect to accountancy but with respect to all aspects of the socio-economic policies for the short medium and long term of said company
       This run-on, looping (circumperambulating !), uncapitalized (well, except for those T60s and AD4s) text is not exactly easy to follow, but if you let yourself go with the flow you should be carried right along. It isn't too long -- and there is that narrative tension (though that too works in waves, rather than a steady rise) -- and its oddities (and Bellos' creative recreation) certainly offer rewards. Certainly something different, and quite enjoyable. (And while the American edition comes with a diminutive title -- The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise -- it also comes in a beautifully diminutively sized volume.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 April 2011

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Links:

the art and craft of approaching your head of department to submit a request for a raise: Reviews: Georges Perec: OuLiPo: Other books by Georges Perec under review: Other books about Georges Perec under review: Books translated by Georges Perec into French under review: Other books under review of interest:

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About the Author:

       The great French writer Georges Perec (1936-1982) studied sociology at the Sorbonne and worked as a research librarian. His first published novel, Les Choses, won the 1965 Prix Renaudot. A member of the Oulipo since 1967 he wrote a wide variety of pieces, ranging from his impressive fictions to a weekly crossword for Le Point.

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© 2011-2014 the complete review

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