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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Georges Perec

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To purchase Things

Title: Things
Author: Georges Perec
Genre: Novel
Written: 1965 (Eng.: 1990)
Length: 106 pages
Original in: French
Availability: in Things / A Man Asleep - US
in Things / A Man Asleep - UK
in Things / A Man Asleep - Canada
Les choses - Canada
Things - India
Les choses - France
Die Dinge - Deutschland
Le cose - Italia
Las cosas - España
  • A Story of the Sixties
  • French title: Les choses
  • Translated and with an Introduction by David Bellos (1990)
  • Previously translated by Helen Lane and published as Les Choses: A Story of the Sixties (1968)
  • Awarded the Prix Renaudot

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Our Assessment:

A- : effective narrative of a slice of life in France in early 1960s

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
London Rev. of Books . 10/1/1991 Patrick Parrinder
The LA Times B+ 4/11/1990 Richard Eder
NZZ . 29/12/2001 Stefan Zweifel
New Statesman . 20/7/1990 Jenny Diski
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction B Summer/1991 Harvey Pekar
TLS . 10/8/1990 Dan Gunn
The Washington Post . 9/12/1990 Alberto Manguel

  From the Reviews:
  • "Things speaks for the bourgeois, mass-market Sixties just as, eighty years earlier, Huysmans's A Rebours became the Bible of the Decadents. To move from Huysmans to Perec is to go from the gaslit naughtiness of a Late Victorian brothel to the antiseptic pages of a soft-porn magazine." - Partrick Parrinder, London Review of Books

  • "(T)he author is not simply lampooning Jerome's and Sylvie's dream-maneuvers. He writes with a ghost of tenderness. It is detached tenderness, like that of an archeologist who uncovers the ruins of a great city. That they are ruins, he has no doubt; that the city was beautiful is not affirmed, exactly, but offered as a troubled hypothesis." - Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Ein leicht lesbarer, aber schwer verdaubarer Text, dessen Gift langsam wirkt, wie es bei aller wahren Kunst der Fall ist -- bevor auch sie zum schicken Titel eines Werks wird, das sich jeder an die Wand hängen oder in den Bücherschrank stellen muss." - Stefan Zweifel, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Perec's accomplishment in Things is obvious if modest. (...) The work does lack a certain amount of emotional impact since it reads so much like a case study, but I assume Perec realized what he was doing." - Harvey Pekar, Review of Contemporary Fiction

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:

       Things is a semi-autobiographical two-part novella, centered on the lives of Jérôme and Sylvie. Disillusioned students, they dropped out and took positions in the new, fast-expanding field of market research. They don't really imagine these jobs leading to careers, but see them as a stepping-stone, allowing them some independence, and better than the other limited alternatives they have.
       Once employed they begin to enjoy consumer-life. Not only do they research it, they also avidly partake in it. They become quite swept up in the vicious circle of consumerism, which in turn ties them to their jobs (they aren't qualified to do much else), desperate to live the lifestyles being promoted and offered around them. Eventually they find: "Money, sometimes, consumed them entirely."
       They don't entirely give in: they do try the alternative. The first, stand-alone sentence of Part II of the novel acknowledges: "They tried to run away" (their eventual failure already implicit in these words).
       They apply for teaching positions, in Tunisia -- a touch of the exotic, away from what has become their oppressive Parisian lives, politically seemingly engaged (with the Algerian hotbed -- it is 1962 -- so close). They go, and live a different life there. But it can not hold them, and though not yet a fait accompli the narrator can write with certainty of what will come: they will return to France, settle down, accept positions in advertising.
       Perec presents the story with almost clinical directness. The focus is almost entirely on the one unit the couple form: everything is seen in relationship to them, almost every sentence talks about "them" and what "they" do. They are part of the world -- tiny cogs, as they all too well recognize -- but the world at large only touches them to the extent they allow it to. Algeria and France's involvement there looms like a shadow over all of France: it does not go unmentioned here, but is almost entirely peripheral.
       In the Epilogue Perec switches tenses, offering not what has happened or is happening but looking ahead. "Things could have carried on in the same way", is the first sentence of this section. Of course, they will not. Instead, Perec states that Jérôme and Sylvie will clearly not remain in this stasis, but rather will choose the life they had briefly tried to escape, settling down into the yuppiedom of the 1960s. He closes by sketching out their inevitable future, vague regrets and all.
       The book ends with a quote from Marx, suggesting the means are as significant as the ends and that "the quest for truth must itself be true". Jérôme and Sylvie's quest itself, Perec suggests throughout, lacks that necessary purity.

       Things is the story of a generation -- not the 68ers (another popular French preoccupation), but those a few years older. It is a novel of the sixties -- a world unsettled by Algeria and De Gaulle, but soon to be thrown into even greater turmoil. The rise of consumerism, and both the attraction and emptiness of this lifestyle are fully explored, as are the other dramatic changes society at that time was going through.
       Perec presents his story well and very effectively. He writes in part from experience: he did dabble in market research, and he did spend some time in Tunisian Sfax (as do his characters). Perec, of course, chose a different way -- working as a research archivist and always writing -- but he shows an understanding of the motivations and longings of his characters (and the many they are stand-ins for) and conveys these very well.
       A small, odd (but very approachable) modern French classic, allowing for a variety of interpretations -- and good literary fun. Recommended.

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Things: 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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