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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Man Asleep

Georges Perec

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To purchase A Man Asleep

Title: A Man Asleep
Author: Georges Perec
Genre: Novel
Written: 1967 (Eng. 1990)
Length: 89 pages
Original in: French
Availability: in Things / A Man Asleep - US
in Things / A Man Asleep - UK
in Things / A Man Asleep - Canada
Un homme qui dort - Canada
Un homme qui dort - France
Ein Mann der schläft - Deutschland
  • French title: Un homme qui dort
  • Translated by Andrew Leak
  • With an Introduction by David Bellos

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Our Assessment:

A- : effective study

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
New Statesman . 20/7/1990 Jenny Diski
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Summer/1991 Harvey Pekar
TLS . 10/8/1990 Dan Gunn
The Washington Post . 9/12/1990 Alberto Manguel

  From the Reviews:
  • "In A Man Asleep we take the full weight of the student's self-pitying view of himself as a 'missing piece in the human jigsaw', a motif that anticipates Perec's majestic obsession with games and puzzles. Yet the novel is also a monologue (spoken, in the film version that Perec directed, by means of a female voice-over) in which every sentence is cast in the second person singular. Like Things, it must be read at one level as the virtuoso elaboration of a simple grammatical figure." - Partrick Parrinder, London Review of Books

  • "(G)radually, he realizes, this refusal of choice is itself a choice. The realization transforms an emptiness which, for a reader, was becoming awfully empty. Suddenly Perec shows a beauty on the far side of the void; a humanity on the far side of refusal." - Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times

  • "One of the most unique and interesting features of A Man Asleep is Perec's effort to describe sleeping and near sleeping states which are highly unusual, reminding me of very little other fiction." - 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:

       A Man Asleep is told in the second person, directed straight at the reader, insistently speaking for him (the "you" is, as the title already suggests, male -- which, one might argue, somewhat limits the effectiveness of this particularly literary device).
       The "you" is also clearly the author, writing as though he were another, picking apart his own life from outside rather than from within.
       He ("you") is a twenty-five year old student, living in Paris, suddenly overcome by the pointlessness of it all: "You have hardly started living, and yet all is said, all is done." He decides to withdraw from life, simply not accepting the inevitable, mundane path that has been mapped-out for him -- indeed, not accepting any future. It begins when he sleeps through an exam, the first step to his abandoning his studies:

Your seat remains vacant. You won't finish your degree, you won't begin a postgraduate thesis. You will study no more.
       He doesn't answer the door or see his friends, cutting himself off from his old life. He simply drifts, realizing that: "you don't know how to live, that you will never know." He doesn't seem to want to learn, either, simply allowing himself to drift.
       He stays with his parents in the country for a few months, lazing away. He returns to Paris, to his garret: "the centre of the world" -- his limited world, certainly. Almost: the entirety of his world.
       He practically sleepwalks through life. He wanders about Paris, goes to the cinema. He reads every word of the newspaper, but the content is essentially meaningless to him and his life. He tries to impose an order on his life, but that makes little difference.
       He grows no wiser.
       He finds, in the end, also that: "Indifference is futile."
       Perec closes the book with some hope of finding one's place in the world -- and as part of the world --, in his own way. His character is, ultimately, not an island. At the end he is waking, gently, just.

       The vision of the modern condition, of youthful anxiety and inner philosophical turmoil Perec offers is not a new or uncommon one, but he displays a fine touch in presenting it. The direct address is effective: the reader does not see him or herself as the "you", but rather sees it clearly as the character Perec has invented -- or as Perec himself. The man -- the author --is struggling to come to terms with his condition, and he is only able to analyze it (or even just consider it) from this oblique point of view.
       Perec avoids being sententious or ponderous or dramatic -- or bland. The novella -- short, in any case -- is surprisingly brisk and amusing, and not just a litany of complaint or self-doubt.
       A nice, small success.

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A Man Asleep: 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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