A Lipogrammatic Synopsis ---- which with artful constraint will focus savor, nay passion and by addition of vigorous acuity and highbrow purport, may transplant mirth as though a frolicking Pan full of ambrosial liquor.
As his country is torn apart by social and political anarchy, Anton Vowl, known capricious kook and insomniac, is missing. Ransacking his Paris accommodation (turning all up and down, all in & out), his top, top pals scour his diary for hints to his location. At first look, nothing is in plain sight, all is myopic, but Vowl's inclination for word play, notably for "lipograms" (compositions in which a particular symbol, pictograph or syllabary is A.W.O.L.) is commonly known. But as his chums start to work out Vowl's word labyrinth’s, tracking through various trails amongst Vowl’s data, his companions start to go missing, 1 by1 by 1, and with mystifying Fortuna. Through this story you and I follow Vowl’s cohorts, trailing (magnifying glass in hand) through a Gordian knot of distractions, convolutions & fog bound motifs, forming a Rubics squarish form of a madcap roaming, with foul play and slayings a constant quandary and a garishly Faustian conclusion. A Void is a philosophical whodunit, a bloodhound, P.I., a shoofly story, chock-full of plots and unfolding's, of trails in pursuit of pathways, it’s as though Dr Watson’s brainy companion was caught running through a phantasmagoric vista, with brushwork by Miró * or his kind .
All of which affords this books author occasion to display his virtuosity as a lingual magician, acrobat, and lugubrious buffoon, a mad calculus doctor piling word upon word in a foolish, rash, cloud-soaring ziggurat, a monstrous burj of Babil.
It is also a flagitious garrulous stunt: a 280 odd folio fiction that on no occasion puts to work a particular symbol that falls twixt D and F. Adair's translation, is also mind-bogglingly astounding and full of dark art, it also constricts it’s wording choosing to follow its original authors lipogrammatic constraint and in doing so fashions a book that has no ilk, no comparisons, that lights its own trail with lamps and flash bangs, prior to skipping, dancing, tripping, prancing, 1 instant a figurant or Prima, anon a hippopotamus, an aardvark. A non-tabloid with an autonym such as “Chrono” broadcast this summary "a daunting triumph of will pushing its way through imposing roadblocks to a magical country, an absurdist nirvana of humour, pathos, and loss.".
Georges Perec was the only child of Icek Judko and Cyrla (Schulewicz) Peretz – Polish Jews who emigrated to France in the 1920s, moving to Belleville, a working class district of Paris. Perec’s father died in 1940, as an enlisted soldier in the French army and his mother perished in a concentration camp, probably in Auschwitz. From 1942 he was raised by his paternal aunt Esther and her husband David Bienenfeld, a successful pearl trader and was officially adopted by them in 1945. After graduating from a boarding school, Perec went on to study history and sociology at the Sorbonne and started writing reviews and essays for the Nouvelle Revue Française and Les Lettres Nouvelles. Between 1958 – 59 he served in the army, on discharge he married Paulette Petras and spent a few years in Tunis, working as an archivist at the Neurophysiological Research Laboratory attached to the Hospital Saint-Antoine where he remained until his literary activity allowed him to support himself financially. He died of cancer at the age of forty-five in 1982.
Perec's first novel, Les Choses (Things: A Story of the Sixties) was awarded the Prix Renaudot in 1965. His most famous novel, La Vie mode d'emploi (Life: A User's Manual), was published in 1978. Its title page describes it as "novels”.
A Void is Gilbert Adair’s translation of the original French novel La Disparition (The Disappearance) by Georges Perec, written in 1969 as a lipogrammatic novel, it is written in its entirety without the letter E, following Oulipo constraints. Georges Perec was a member of Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (Oulipo), in English, Workshop of potential literature, a Paris-based group of writers founded by Raymond Queneau in 1960. Oulipo attempts to expand literature by the use of formal patterns from other domains such as mathematics, logic or chess, these constraints are used as a means of triggering ideas and inspirations. Perec himself has used palindromes, lipograms & the Knight's Tour .
By choosing this constraint you deprive yourself with one essential article “The” and approximately two thirds of the English language, In French Perec’s native language the situation is even worse, with only around an eighth of the vocabulary left for use
Warren Motte, writing an article on Perec in the literary magazine Context, interprets the themes of the book as follows.
- "The absence of a sign is always the sign of an absence, and the absence of the E in A Void announces a broader, cannily coded discourse on loss, catastrophe, and mourning. Perec cannot say the words père ["father"], mère ["mother"], parents ["parents"], famille ["family"] in his novel, nor can he write the name Georges Perec. In short, each "void" in the novel is abundantly furnished with meaning, and each points toward the existential void that Perec grappled with throughout his youth and early adulthood. A strange and compelling parable of survival becomes apparent in the novel, too, if one is willing to reflect on the struggles of a Holocaust orphan trying to make sense out of absence, and those of a young writer who has chosen to do without the letter that is the beginning and end of écriture ["writing"]."
“In French, the phrase "sans e" ("without e") sounds very much like "sans eux" ("without them"), another encrypted reference to loss”
In the afterword of this book Georges Perec, states
“But I ought admit right away that its origin was totally haphazard, touch and go, a flip of a coin. It all got out of hand with a companion calling my bluff (I said I could do it, this companion said I could not); and I should admit, too, that so inauspiciously was that launching pad, I had no inkling at all that, as an acorn contains an oak, anything solid would grow out of it. Initially I found such a constraint faintly amusing , if that; but I stuck to my guns. At which point, finding that it took my imagination down so many intriguing linguistic highways and byways”.
Georges Perec goes on to say that he couldn’t stop thinking about it to the detriment of all his other projects, now in my small way I came to understand this obsession, whilst writing the synopsis and final conclusion although they only total 500 words it also became all absorbing, left me constantly working out word combinations,waking from dreams with half remembered solutions, possible replacement for my usual language choices, scouring dictionaries, thesauruses etc., trying to find the right words to convey the idea of the tale and my joyous love of it. Georges Perec is seen as a literary experimentalist, who was intrigued by the question of form, he once suggested that his work was dominated by four major themes “a passion for the apparently trivial details of everyday life, an impulse toward confession and autobiography, a will toward formal innovation, and a desire to tell engaging, absorbing stories” This book is a fantastic, capricious, incredible, wonderful, hallucinatory, delight, it made me think, it made me laugh, really laugh.
A Final Conclusion - In which with sly confabulation and brash hubbub, I solicit your appraisal.
Now that my cunning articulation has put this locution/opinion within thy company, I’m surmising a grin with stunning alacrity has burst upon your physiognomy, if this is so, if my ruminations upon said book bring forth a liking, a passion, nay an anxious torrid compulsion to own this fantabulous work, may I humbly but with burning ardour applaud your scholarly, highbrow smart thinking and acclaim your accord, thus with jovial thanks I go forth and part your auspicious company.
I read this book in tandem with Gina Choe At Gina Choe blogs books in translation and she has written a fantastic post on this book, she also has a bit of an Oulipo mania, so has a wealth of other information on this fascinating subject. Please take the time and check her site out.