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the Complete Review

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Georges Perec
at the
complete review:

biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Name: Georges PEREC
Nationality: French
Born: 7 March 1936
Died: 3 March 1982
Awards: Prix Renaudot, 1965
Prix Medicis, 1978

  • Attended the Sorbonne
  • Research librarian at the Centre Nationale de là Recherche Scientifique, 1962-79
  • Member of the Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (OuLiPo)

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Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.
Dates given are of first publication.

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What others have to
say about
Georges Perec:

  • "Perec's games parody our instinctive willingness to believe in language's absolute authority, and release language into a neutral space where words fulfil their own random, intrinsic connections. One of the most appealing features of Perec's writing is its lack of self-righteousness, its whole-hearted enjoyment of its own fictive procedures." - Mark Ford, London Review of Books (2/2/1989)

  • "Perec's novels are games, each different. They are played for real stakes and in some cases breathtakingly large ones. As games should be, and as literary games often are not, they are fun." - Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times (12/2/1995)

  • "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." - Walter Abish, The Washington Post (12/3/1995)

  • "Perec does not fit our idea of Frenchness. He was fiendishly clever, but not so intellectual that he ruffles Anglo-Saxon pragmatism with anything so threatening as a Theory. He was a member of OuLiPo, a movement which promoted "potential literature", but was no evangelizing dogmatist. He wrote short and long (though he was most at home with short), made films, scripted radio plays, composed poems in strange metres and penned impish, pungent articles for newspapers. He is not your man for deep emotion or elucubrations on the great issues of the day. His writing persona is self-deprecating, private and rather gentle, though there is tangible pessimism behind the fey humour." - David Coward, Times Literary Supplement (6/3/1998)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

  • Playful and inventive,
  • Clever (especially with wordplay)
  • Surprising depth behind the playful exterior

  • Wordplay often can't be translated
  • Arbitrariness of some of the games
  • Different translators and confusing variety of English publications (many of which are currently hard to find)

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the complete review's Opinion

     Georges Perec is best known as a member of Oulipo, and his e-less novel La disparition (rendered into English by Gilbert Adair, as A Void) is perhaps considered the most representative text of that group. But Perec isn't so easily described (or marginalised) -- much as the works of most of the the Oulipo-authors (Queneau, Calvino, Roubaud, and Harry Mathews among them) often offer far more than simple literary games.
     Certainly, Perec is a different writer than most: a neutral, objective tone, rigid organisation, mathematical and logical foundations, and repetition are common to many of his texts. The pieces following the strictest rules -- an entire novel without an "e" (or a novella using no other vowel), a 5000-letter palindrome -- are the most easily recalled, but in many of Perec's work the rules are readily lost in the fictions, the stories ingeniously constructed and standing solidly on their own. Rather than limiting what he did, the Oulipo philosophy seems to pushed him to be more creative, to try ever different and new approaches. (The excellent collection, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, serves as a good introduction for English-speaking readers, showing much of what he was capable of.)
     His masterpiece, Life A User's Manual, is one of the great French novels of the 20th century, a wonderful puzzle-marvel, managing to entertain with the wild invention and close observation in its smaller stories that also function as integral parts of this carefully constructed whole. From Things to W, or the Memory of Childhood, he also wrote very different sorts of fictions (often with strong autobiographical elements), often taking whatever approach he had decided on close to its extremes, yet never losing his story in the conditions he imposed on it.
     The smaller pieces -- essays, short stories, his New Year's greetings for his friends -- are also often worthwhile (especially as whatever games he chooses to play there aren't as tiresome as they might be in a longer work).
     A fair selection of Perec's work -- including all the major works -- has been translated into English. Unfortunately, not all of it is readily available any longer. It should also be noted -- and it shouldn't surprise, given what Perec does with language -- that there is considerable debate about the quality of many of the translations (and Les choses has even been published in two different translations).

     Perec is a leading French writer, who rarely fails entertain and engage readers. His works should be far better known, and more widely read and discussed.

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Georges Perec: OuLiPo: Georges Perec's books at the complete review: Books about Georges Perec under review: See also:

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