20070916

Livet: En bruksanvisning

Georges Perec - Livet: En bruksanvisning

Betyg: 4

Published in 1978 - apparently it took him 9 years to write it, and I don't doubt it for a second - is considered Perec's masterpiece. And while it's not so much FUN as A Void, it's certainly impressive. This novel - if indeed it can be called a novel - is basically a literary jigsaw puzzle. The setting is a Paris apartment building with 99 rooms; the framework of the story is one single afternoon in 1975, and each of the 99 chapters describes what is happening - or not happening - in each room in this precise moment in time. In a way, the novel is sort of a mimeogram or whatever you want to call it; each chapter lists the objects found in each room - something which does, unfortunately, make the book a bit repetitive - as well as the people. One of Perec's most common themes, it seems, is memory; not just one person's memories, but the collective memories of a people (one of his novels, Je Me Souviens, is apparently made up entirely of sentences like "I remember [insert object/person/song/whatever]"). And the building in Life contains the flotsam and jetsam of the entire 19th and 20th centuries; people from all over Europe and all walks of life, the young and the old, the keepsakes of their ancestors, and of course the stories. Because each chapter also contains a short story - sometimes VERY short, sometimes tens of pages - describing how they got here, what other people they ran in to, the wars, the technology, the literature, the... well, all the facets of history, both personal and international.

Part of the framework is the story of one of the tenants, Bartlebooth, who as a bored young wealthy man sets himself what looks like a completely pointless task: he will spend 10 years learning how to paint, 20 years travelling around the world painting, then have his paintings sawed into jigsaw puzzles and spend the next 20 years laying those puzzles. After he's done, the paintings will be restored, shipped back to the places they were painted, and destroyed again so that nothing remains. And the entire novel IS a puzzle, one which takes much more than one read-through to complete; there are tons of interconnected storylines, objects that show up in several places, people that meet and influence each other's lives and then split apart again, circumstances ranging from the hilarious to the utterly tragic, and just... life. Someone said it was a book one could live in.

In a way, I suppose it's a story of how we see the world. Any three things, one of the character points out, can be seen as part of a pattern; any two jigsaw puzzle pieces can turn out to fit together. It's all about how we connect the dots. One read-through isn't nearly enough to connect them all, but I'm not sure if that's the point either; so many of the pieces - the stories - are beautiful/funny/fascinating in their own right, and I'm perfectly happy for now to have picked each one up, turned it around a couple of times, and put it in a pile next to some others that I think it might fit with.

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