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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Georges Perec

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To purchase Three by Perec

Title: Three
Author: Georges Perec
Genre: Novellas
Written: 1966/72/79 (Eng. 1996)
Length: 177 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Three by Perec - US
Three by Perec - UK
Three by Perec - Canada
Quel petit vélo à guidon chromé au fond de la cour ? - France
Les revenentes - France
Un cabinet d'amateur - France

  • Translated by Ian Monk
  • Introductions by David Bellos
  • Contains the three novellas:
    • Which Moped with Chrome-plated Handlebars at the back of the Yard (French title: Quel petit vélo à guidon chromé au fond de la cour ?)
    • The Exeter Text: Jewels, Secrets, Sex (French title: Les revenentes)
    • A Gallery Portrait (French title: Un cabinet d'amateur)

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Our Assessment:

B : varied pieces, serving as a good introduction to the author

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       This beautiful Harvill book (now (2004) also available in a not-quite-so attractive Verba Mundi/Godine edition) brings together three of Perec's shorter novel, each briefly introduced by Perec biographer David Bellos and translated by Ian Monk. Each is a very different fiction.
       Which Moped with Chrome-plated Handlebars at the back of the Yard is an early experimental piece in which Perec plays with style, intermingling high and lowbrow, serious and farcical in this story of a group of people in 1960's France trying to save a friend from being sent to Algeria to fight in the war. Perec manages to make a decent story out of it, and Monk captures at least the gist of Perec's rhetorical flourishes. It is a minor piece, but it has its moments.
       The Exeter Text: Jewels, Secrets, Sex is the complement to Perec's earlier novel, A Void (imaginatively translated by Gilbert Adair), in which Perec had avoided using the vowel E. The Exeter Text is then the text that uses up all those missing E's, with none of the words having any vowels other than E. This makes for an oft-times forced and frequently stilted text -- and translation (in this case by "E.N.Menk") does not help. Still, it is a fun exercise, and there is even something of a story here. At over 50 pages Perec (and Menk) certainly prove their mettle, though on a certain level the joke quickly wears thin. However, if one is willing to suspend normal literary judgement and play along, as it were, then it is fairly fun.
       A Gallery Portrait, in many respects the most conventional of the pieces, at least stylistically, is subtitled The Story of a Painting and that is what it is. Meticulous and precise, Perec details the story of A Gallery Portrait, a painting by the American painter Heinrich Kürz. Perec builds up a story around it, playing with many of his usual preoccupations -- art depicting art, forgery and authenticity, valuation, description. It is a neat little story -- the last book Perec completed before his untimely death.

       The pieces are all relatively short and, spanning Perec's entire career, they offer a good insight into his writing. They are not truly typical, because Perec was, if anything, always atypical, impossible to pigeonhole, but they do show a variety of his abilities. None of it is light or casual reading, though the stories are playful. The novellas engage the reader and demand a different (and fairly intense) sort of concentration. We recommend the book, but warn readers that it is an unusual literary experience that awaits them.

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Three by Perec: 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
  • Jeff Noon's metamorphiction, Cobralingus
  • 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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