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Georges Perec: A Life in Words (Harvill Press Editions) [Paperback]

David Bellos
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

29 April 1999 Harvill Press Editions
"It's hard to see how anyone is ever going to better this User's Manual to the life of Georges Perec" - Gilbert Adair, Sunday Times. Winner of the Prix Goncourt for Biography, 1994. George Perec (1936-82) was one of the most significant European writers of the twentieth century and undoubtedly the most versatile and innovative writer of his generation. David Bellos's comprehensive biography - which also provides the first full survey of Perec's irreverent, polymathic oeuvre - explores the life of an anguished, comical and endearingly modest man, who worked quietly as an archivist in a medical research library. The French son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, he remained haunted all of his life by his father's death in the war, fighting to defend France, and his mother's in Auschwitz-Birkenau. His acclaimed novel A Void (1969) - written without using the letter "e" - has been seen as an attempt to escape from the words "pere", "mere", and even "George Perec". His career made an auspicious start with Things: A Story of the Sixties (1965), which won the Prix Renaudot. He then pursued an idiosyncratic and ambitious literary itinerary through the intellectual ferment of Paris in the 1960s and 1970s.He belonged to the Ouvrior de Litterature Potentielle (OuLiPo), a radically inventive group of writers whose members included Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino. Perec achieved international celebrity with Life A User's Manual (1978), which won the Prix Medicis and was voted Novel of the Decade by the Salon du Livre. He died in his mid-forties after a short illness, leaving a truly puzzling detective novel, 53 Days, incomplete. "Professor Bellos's book enables us at once to relish the most wilfully bizarre aspects of Perec's oeuvre and to understand the whys and wherefores of his protean nature" - Jonathan Romney, Literary Review.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 832 pages
  • Publisher: The Harvill Press; New edition edition (29 April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860466362
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860466366
  • Product Dimensions: 15 x 4.5 x 22 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,775,727 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Georges Perec was one of the finest writers of the 20th century and yet his work remains relatively obscure. He is probably best known for Life: A User's Manual a book he dedicated to his fellow avant- gardist Raymond Queneau (who, along with Harry Matthews, Italo Calvino, Perec and others, was a member of OuLiPo-- an important group of experimental writers and mathematicians). He wrote the wonderful lipogram A Void a book in which the letter "e" never appears and the world's longest palindrome (in the form of a two-and-a- half page story.) He is seen by many as a true literary genius. Bellos traces the sadness behind Perec's prodigious wordplay, his confused and tragic lineage (including his mother's demise in the death camps), his entry on to the literary scene with the anti-materialist Things, his Jewish (non-)identity. Without Bellos's translations Perec would probably have remained unknown outside of France. Without this readable, compelling, exhaustive biography his often autobiographical, highly structured fiction would be far less approachable. Georges Perec: a Life in Words is a fitting testimony to a writer we should all know better. --Mark Thwaite

Review

"Immense, buoyant, utterly revealing... Has achieved an overwhelmingly human portrait, as vivid as it is complex, not only of Perec but of the mechanisms, intrigues, passions and comedies of Paris intellectual life in the sixties and seventies" Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times "A vast and heartening biography that gives unfashionable weight to the subject's playfulness as a writer, for all his deep difficulties as a man" Hugo Barnacle, Independent

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spread the word, Perec is the greatest 1 Feb 2005
Format:Paperback
The world is a much more interesting place with writers like George Perec and David Bellos. If you havent read a George Perec book then just buy one and be prepared to wonder how someone could come up with one of the novels he devised nevertheless several mind blowing ideas. He is one of the most interesting writers around and this book captures the essense of being a French writer in the Left Bank during the 60's and 70's. It documents Perec's struggle to live his dream of supporting himself through his writing and is an inspiration for any wannabe writer. I am indebted to David Bellos who compiled this excellent biography and who, without his contribution, the English speaking world would never have had the chance to marvel at the creativity and brilliance of Perec.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An indispensable, fascinating work 15 Nov 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
David Bellos has translated many of Perec's novels and this biography displays the qualities of sensitivity and erudition which make those translations so excellent. The sections on 'Life, a User's Manual' and 'W: or the memory of childhood' are worth the price alone for shedding light on the mysterious and intricate inner processes of those classic works.
It's also a beautiful and well-produced book, and one which it is possible to dip into at any time. A pure delight for anybody interested in Perec.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Georgraphy Perfect 11 Jan 2014
Format:Paperback
Bellos did an outstanding job in his thourough research. Many of his analyzes gave me a new reading of Perec. An enriching rereading.
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By Jay
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fabulous, beautiful book about one of the most intriguing authors ever! Oh: the quality of your service? Arrived in Canada just fine, in a timely manner, and I am happy! Thank you and keep up the outstanding work!

:)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Big, complete, but readable 25 May 2000
By Ben Singleton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Bellos' big, exhaustive raccount of the life and works of one of France's most contreversial modern writers is a thorough insight, both into the family background, the struggles of a writer trying to make a living, and the works themselves. Perecs' books, peppered with clues, quizzes and games, are reinterpreted, giving the reader a new incentive to go back to the texts to more fully understand the author, as essentially a "normal" man.
4.0 out of 5 stars Enormously detailed survey of the all too short life and richly abundant work of this French writer 14 Jan 2014
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
GEORGES PEREC: A Life in Words is David Bellos's biography of the madcap 20th-century French writer best known for his massive novel Life A User's Manual and the constrained writing masterpiece (the letter "e" is never used in hundreds of pages) A Void. Published in 1993, this was the first biography of Perec in any language and its import can be seen its warm reception in Perec's native France as in the English-speaking world.

Bellos based the biography on archival research and on conversations with the writer's friends and family, many of whom were still very much alive when he wrote it as Perec had died at the untimely age of 46 only a decade before. The biography is divided into sixty-six short chapters, and at the end of each Bellos credits his written sources and the various individuals whose oral testimony he relied on for that particular passage.

While fans may know that, in spite of his Breton-sounding surname, Perec was born to Polish Jewish immigrants, Bellos elucidates his entire family tree, which spanned not only Poland and France, but many other countries around the world as well. His close relatives were major players in the international pearl trade and built roads across Israel, and his cousin Bianca Lamblin is known for her sexual relationship with Jean-Paul Satrtre Simone de Beauvoir as a schoolgirl (though Bellos wrote this before the revelations of Beauvoir's misdoings). Another example of the detail here is that Bellos describes in considerable detail the information-management tasks that Perec performed as his "day job" in a French neurological research laboratory, showing how he skill for categorization passed over into his fiction.

Bellos also gets into the specifics of Perec's work, spending many pages describing the hidden framework on which Perec built LIFE A USER'S MANUAL, and offering plenty of other examples of Perec's constrained writing from poetry to short stories.

Though this will be a wealth of information on Perec's life and work, two decades later one can see a few deficiencies, as some new material has come to light. Also, Bellos ends his biograpy with Perec's untimely death from lung cancer in a Paris hospital, and we don't get any kind of "Aftermath" chapter describing his funeral or what happened to his estate.

It is worth noting that the original 1993 print run of GEORGES PEREC: A Life in Words was incorrectly printed. If you purchase a copy, be sure that it was printed in 1995 (published as "Revised edition") or later.
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