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the Complete Review
the complete review - dreams

La Boutique Obscure

Georges Perec

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To purchase La Boutique Obscure

Title: La Boutique Obscure
Author: Georges Perec
Genre: Dream diary
Written: 1973 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 262 pages
Original in: French
Availability: La Boutique Obscure - US
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La boutique obscure - Canada (French)
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La boutique obscure - France
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  • 124 Dreams
  • French title: La boutique obscure
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Daniel Levin Becker

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Our Assessment:

B : just a dream diary -- but with Perecian flair

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El País . 26/2/2011 Jesús Ferrero
Publishers Weekly . 25/2/2013 .
La Stampa . 23/4/2011 Massimo Romano
TLS . 9/8/2013 Dennis Duncan

  From the Reviews:
  • "Los sueños de Perec resultan cómicos por su confrontación con lo real, que en el universo del sueño hallan significados que no esperábamos y que nos divierten. Algo sorprende en ellos: todos te proyectan hacia el mundo y hacia las situaciones absurdas del mundo, a veces tan parecidas a las de los sueños." - Jesús Ferrero, El País

  • "Perec's work is surreal, but only just (.....) This is the reader's reward: watching Perec's mind weaving metaphor and story even while asleep." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Questo nuovo libro, inclassificabile ma bellissimo, è «un'autobiografia notturna» in cui attraverso i sogni Perec racconta la sua storia di buffone tragico costretto suo malgrado a fare i conti con la ferita dell'infanzia" - Massimo Romano, La Stampa

  • "For all the stylistic variety of the individual dream stories, there is no structuring constraint underpinning the collection as a whole, and many of the narratives do seem to strive for unaffected fidelity to the dream itself. (...) For readers used to Perec's inveterate puzzling, La Boutique obscure is a rather disorienting text -- its rebuses are not there to be solved, and we can only guess what lies behind its wordplay." - Dennis Duncan, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Georges Perec famously believed that everything and every experience could be processed into literature, and put this to a test in a variety of ways, with works focused on listing, cataloguing, and chronicling in painstaking detail. Keeping a dream diary was an obvious exercise for him to undertake , and La Boutique Obscure collects 124 dreams Perec recorded between 1968 and 1972. Not surprisingly, too, he then found it an exercise that fed and turned on itself, acknowledging in his Preface:

I thought I was recording the dreams I was having; I have realized that it was not long before I began having dreams only in order to write them.
       Recording dreams might seem too close to uncontrolled free-form writing for an Oulipian -- i.e. a writer used to writing within very tightly set parameters -- and a crossword-puzzle creator (a regular gig of Perec's). But what might seem closer to surrealistic automatic writing and without those Oulipian constraints that so appealed to Perec surely was also shaped by the dreamer-author. After all, he admits in his Preface also that:
These dreams -- overdreamed, overworked, overwritten -- what could I then expect of them, if not to make them into texts
       A subjective hand, or pen, records the dreams, overworks and overwrites them, making them distinctly Perecian, if not necessarily recognizably Oulipian. A mix between (apparently) revealing and the carefully edited and controlled, the collection makes a nice minor addition to his life and amazing body of his work.
       The dreams include some that are almost entirely banal: number nine, for example, reads, in its entirety:
I spoke with a doctor for a long time about my sinus infections.
       But many have the nice bizarre twists that dreams often do: so, for example, a woman asks whether the third printing of Perec's Things has come out yet, "then tells me that, while we're at it, there ought to be a translation for people who stutter." In another he kills his wife "and cut her rather crudely into small pieces" -- taking these to a distillery in the hopes of getting her turned into wine or alcohol. And in another he gets introduced to Adolf Hitler -- "a grotesque clown, with pale skin and long hair".
       In some the dreamed adventures sound more commonplace -- "Did I lose my shoes ? How did I lose my shoes ?" --, but often Perec puts a nice spin on them, too:
     It turns out I'm in a brothel. Three obese, cheerful women attack me in one of the rooms I explore while looking for my own. I run away. Another woman chases me (this isn't so bad, actually).
       Among the most the most impressive and powerful is dream ninety-five, 'The hypothalamus', which begins with him noticing about his most notorious work, the novel written entirely without the letter e:
     It starts with a few harmless comments, but soon there's no denying it: there are several Es in A Void.
     First one, then two, then twenty, then thousands !
     I can't believe my eyes.
       It concludes:
     I decide (still dreaming) to call this dream "the hypothalamus" because "thus is my desire structured." I should (in that case) have called it "the limbic system," which is a more pertinent term for all that refers to emotional behaviors.
       Here, and in several that, for example, deal with the trauma of his childhood, the texts rise to a level beyond being mere dream-records. Elsewhere, also, one suspects that, as he admits in dream twenty-two, "Most of the terms in this dream are like crossword clues" -- lending themselves also to puzzling out.
       If La Boutique Obscure doesn't have quite the depth of many of Perec's more carefully fashioned texts, it is a work of considerable breadth and variety, and much of it is good fun, too. Any new bit of Pereciana is welcome, and fans will certainly appreciate and enjoy La Boutique Obscure.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 February 2013

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La Boutique Obscure: 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:
  • See Index of Oulipo books under review
  • See also the Index of French literature at the complete review

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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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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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