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the Complete Review
the complete review - selected writings


Species of Spaces
and Other Pieces

Georges Perec

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To purchase Species of Spaces and Other Pieces

Title: Species of Spaces and Other Pieces
Author: Georges Perec
Genre: Selected writings
Written: (1959-1982; Eng.: 1997)
Length: 297 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Species of Spaces and Other Pieces - US
Species of Spaces and Other Pieces - UK
Species of Spaces and Other Pieces - Canada
Species of Spaces and Other Pieces - India
  • Translated, edited, and with an Introduction by John Sturrock
  • Published in the Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics series
  • Includes complete translations of:
    • Espèces d'espaces, 1974 (available at Amazon.fr)
    • Le Voyage d'hiver, 1979/1993 (available at Amazon.fr)
  • Includes selected translations from:
    • Je suis né, 1990 (available at Amazon.fr)
    • Penser/Classer, 1985 (available at Amazon.fr)
    • L'Infra-ordinaire, 1989 (available at Amazon.fr)
    • L.G., 1992 (available at Amazon.fr)
    • Cantatrix Sopranica L., 1991
    • Voeux, 1989
  • John Sturrock adds a few of his own little word-puzzles to Perec's New Year's Greeting puzzles (Voeux)

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Our Assessment:

A- : good, varied introduction to Perec's work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS A 6/3/1998 David Coward
The Washington Post . 9/8/1998 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) well-judged selection of the occasional writings of the performing flea of modern French literature." - David Coward, Times Literary Supplement

  • "If you've been tempted to try Georges Perec's masterpiece Life a User's Manual and found its length daunting, you might prefer to look into this volume of his selected writings." - The Washington Post

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:

       Species of Spaces and Other Pieces is a collection of Perec's "non-fictional and occasional writings". They span essentially his entire writing career (the earliest is a transcript from remarks from 1959), and include interviews, essays, fiction, and some of his puzzles.
       Perec's 1974 book, Species of Spaces (Espèces d'espaces), is presented in its entirety, taking up about a third of this volume. No single work by Perec can be called typical, but this one comes fairly close to being a representative work. Its subject is -- spaces. Or, as Perec puts it in his foreword: "The subject of this book is not the void exactly, but rather what there is round about or inside it".
       Perec begins with some introductory material offering variations on the theme, then proceeds from space to space. The first is the ultimate authorial space: the page, first blank and then filled. From there he goes from bed to bedroom to apartment to building to street to town to country(side) to countries to continents to world to ... space.
       His observations, ruminations ("We don't think enough of staircases"), asides ("I write in the margin", he writes in the margin), quotes, and longer expositions really pierce all these spatial concepts. The presentation varies from experimental to straightforward description to lists, from fanciful to ultra-realistic. What Perec manages to do is present all the facets of the mundane: his writing here is like those representations of three-dimensional figures on a computer screen, slowly turning to present unexpected sides -- a simple and yet still surprising trick. Lots of it, of course, also turns out not to be so mundane.
       Much of this material is also personal (like much of the material in this collection), bringing the author himself closer. And in the section on "The Apartment Building" Perec offers a "Project for a Novel" -- an introduction to Life A User's Manual (see our review).
       The selections from Je suis né are directly autobiographical. The first piece presented here, the title piece ("I was born") begins:

I was born on 7.3.36. How many dozens, how many hundreds of times have I written that sentence ? I've no idea.
       Autobiography -- and self-analysis, in all senses -- are a preoccupation for Perec, constantly repeated, whether in writing "I was born on 7.3.36" over and over or repeating other details (from the same or from varying points of view). His life doesn't always figure at the forefront of his fiction (or his work generally), but it is almost always part of it, on some level. The pieces in this section offer glimpses at parts of his life, from his parachuting experiences to a story of running away from home in his childhood to a list of "Some of the Things I Really Must Do Before I Die".
       In other sections there are other attempts to classify, survey, set fast: from a piece on the objects on his desk to an attempted inventory of what he ate and drink during the year 1974. Perec also looks outward (though taking a similar approach), in more general pieces such as "Think/Classify", "The Art and Manner of Arranging One's Books", and "Reading: A Socio-Physiological Outline".
       The book also offers the marvelous little literary story, The Winter Journey, a clever book-tale (frequently -- and fairly -- compared to Borges' fiction).
       Finally, Sturrock has a go at presenting Perec's New Year's puzzles -- verbal games which he devised for his friends, which Sturrock notes were: "of a generally daunting if not impenetrable ingenuity." They are essentially impossible to translate, but Sturrock at least tries to give an idea of what they are like (and even offers three of his own examples). Sturrock's translations (and examples) fall a bit flat, but he does at least give English-language readers an idea of what Perec did.

       Species of Spaces and Other Pieces is an excellent introduction to Perec's work. It is a Perec-reader that offers a bit of most everything that Perec did, and considerable insight into the man himself. The greatest regret a reader will have is that these are only selections, and that so much of his work remains untranslated.
       Certainly recommended.

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Species of Spaces and Other Pieces: 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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