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Life: A User's Manual (Harvill Panther) [Paperback]

Georges Perec
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 May 1996 Harvill Panther
Set in a Paris apartment block, this novel describes in minute detail the lives of the inhabitants and the apartments they inhabit at a specific moment in time.

Product details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: The Harvill Press; New edition edition (2 May 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860461468
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860461460
  • Product Dimensions: 19 x 13.2 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 803,050 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A dazzling, crazy-quilt monument to the imagination" (Paul Auster New York Times)

"An eccentric, madly ambitious scheme to display life all at once. The product of a hectically ingenious intelligence, like James Joyce's" (Victoria Glendinning The Times)

"Amazing, moving and lovable" (New Statesman)

"The finest novel to appear in French since Beckett's trilogy" (Times Literary Supplement)

"Very funny and very sad... A treasure-chest of stories, something to be enjoyed by anyone who has ever responded to works on the same scale and in the same spirit as Rabelais and Chaucer and Sterne" (Scotsman) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

'The last major event in the history of the novel' Italo Calvino --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
52 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The ephemeral and the eternal" 3 Jan 2007
Georges Perec's wonderful title perhaps requires an opening warning that this is an experimental novel rather than a New Age self-help guide ... but a novel unlike any that I've ever read before. He takes a Paris apartment block on a single day (23rd June 1975), and moves round individual rooms in the various flats in an order which is apparently determined by a well-known conundrum in chess (how to get round all 64 squares of a chess board using consecutive Knight's Moves) for a total of 99 fairly short chapters. In each room, he gives us a detailed inventory of the contents - including any people who may be present and what they are up to - usually followed by a digression relating some of the occupants' Back Story, but not infrequently leading on to a digression on something much more tangential (the life story of a sixteenth-century explorer, say, whose biography happens to be in the room). By the end of the book, Perec emerges as a sort of unlikely Sheherazade, having given the reader some short but unforgettable tales (which he helpfully lists as an Appendix with page numbers!). He has also, more memorably, given us a remarkably complete picture of the life of the apartment lived all-at-once, and how the various occupants interact with each other, linked via the central tale of English billionaire eccentric Percival Bartlebooth and his jigsaws.

Bartlebooth, cursed with inexhaustable reserves of time and money, effectively decides to turn his own life into a work of art, by touring the world for twenty years painting 500 watercolours of seaports, which are then turned into jigsaws by one of the apartment's other occupants, Gaspard Winckler.
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47 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning in its complexity and warmth 20 Feb 2004
A long, complex novel, ostensibly about a Parisian apartment building and the history of the people who've lived there over many generations - and of the complex ties between them. The other metaphor Perec keeps coming back to is that of the jigsaw puzzle. Everyone fits into the complex overall framework of life; all sorts of strange fragmentary shapes - births, deaths, lives, loves, objects lost and found, hopes fulfilled and shattered - figure in the interlocking tales that wander across time and space. Shining through the complex structure of the book is Perec's warmth and humanity - his belief that love and hope and honesty are what bind us together.
A wonderful, memorable read. Treat yourself.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This book needs to be read to be believed. It consists of a series of still lives or minor episodes, all based on a Paris apartment block and its inhabitants. Although it has few coherent conventional narrative streams, it tantalises the reader wonderfully and provides a wide array of characters, major and minor, who float in and out of the stories like flotsam and jetsam on the tide. Perec is a master of invention and the few threads of continuity are brought together in a fabulous conclusion that left me chilled for days. What is it about? Everything: storytelling, art, patterns, jigsaw puzzles, the nature of truth, life, mess, wonder, joy, unhappiness and the general imperfect details of living. It really is a fantastic read and well worth the effort needed to understand the style of one of the wondrous and obscure writers of this century. It is truly one of the most complete books I have ever read.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time, space - and detail 21 Jan 2002
Perec switches dimensions: In an ordinary novel, the main dimension
of movement is time - all movement in space and detail are derived
from this movement in time. In Perec's "Life, A User's Manual" the
main dimensions of movement are space, and not the least - detail.
Any movement back or forth in time is merely derived from this
primary movement.
This peculiar mode of movement gives rise to a peculiar writing style
where the writer can not mention an object without at the same time
mentioning its details. It is a very contagious writing style, and so
while reading this book, something I mainly did on the train to and
from work - usually between 7AM and 9AM in the morning and between
4PM and 7PM in the evening on weekdays, except for tuesdays when I
would either leave early or arrive late due to work-outs - I found
myself digressing in details (moving in the dimension of detail) as I
wrote email to friends or participated in other exchanges. It might
remind you of Arabian Nights, except that it is the objects and not
the people who tell the stories within the stories.
A warning for you who wish to read this book: Just as with "Zen and
the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", you will find yourself wondering
through the first 100 pages or so if this book is ever going to go
anywhere. As opposed to the case of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle
Maintenance, you will find it doesn't. But by that time, you won't
care that it doesn't. It is a wonderfully self-contained universe
that starts and ends with nothing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing and tantalising tapestry of tales. 17 Sep 2001
This a expansive and complex book which offers teasing threads of tales and related imagery through a breadth of history and location, whilst remaining a snap shot of an instant in a single Parisian building. At the close, the sense is that there are many deeper puzzles to be solved within the layers of the work as a whole, which can leave the reader feeling unfulfilled. With the luxury of time, it would be fascinating to see if there were more to discover there than meets the eye initially.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Awesome Book!
Published 19 days ago by Rar!
3.0 out of 5 stars The Critics are Not Always to be Trusted.
our bookclub as a whole did not like this book. It was like a beautifully written catalogue of interior design in a block of flats. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Rikki Harcourt
4.0 out of 5 stars Life in a Parisian Apartment Block
Wonderful book ! Fascinating level of detail & great stories within a story. Extremely well crafted story-telling Highly recommended ,
Published 9 months ago by Valerie Ross
5.0 out of 5 stars a briilliant exercise in futility.
to me, it seems so amusing that another reviewer called this 'an exercise in futility, but not for me'. forgive me for being so pedantic... Read more
Published 17 months ago by lushchica
4.0 out of 5 stars Life: A User's Manual by Georges Perec.
Loved its erudition and unremitting attention to the detritus of living. May not be to everyone's taste -would suit obsessives.
Published 20 months ago by John Gilbert
5.0 out of 5 stars True literature
Beware: this is not a self help book or a satiric book about life and its unavoidable nuisances.

This is pure literature. Read more
Published on 2 July 2012 by RAMON
1.0 out of 5 stars An exercise in futility
Sadly did nothing for me. I'm sure writing within the bizarre constraints the author has imposed on himself is technically admirable and he has clearly spent enormous effort in... Read more
Published on 22 April 2012 by I McIntosh
3.0 out of 5 stars Starts off wondrously, descends horribly
This starts off with breathtaking originality and structure and you think you're in for a treat, but it soon becomes unbearably tedious and weighed down with its immense regard for... Read more
Published on 28 July 2010 by Tricky fan
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic of world literature all right but... should be noted that contrary to the item description, THIS IS NOT A BILINGUAL EDITION.
Published on 19 Mar 2010 by Simon Crubellier
5.0 out of 5 stars The inconsequentiality of life
This astonishing book depicts the lives and ephemera (possessions, obsessions, history, peccadilloes, life stories, psychologies, loves and despairs) of the inhabitants of a large... Read more
Published on 18 Sep 2009 by Eileen Shaw
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