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A Void (Verba Mundi) (Verba Mundi (Paperback)) Paperback – 30 Nov 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: David R. Godine Publisher Inc (30 Nov. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1567922961
  • ISBN-13: 978-1567922967
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14.2 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,353,712 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Andrew on 7 Nov. 2008
Format: Paperback
This significant book, who's linguistically cunning author calls for no introduction, strains against a troublingly unjust handicap... in fact, two. It informs of a tall story, that of Anton Vowl, a similar champion of virtuoso wordplay who is lost to a churning, sorrowful world without warning, thus provoking a fatal inquiry amongst bosom companions and distant contacts both, all of whom follow suit in shrugging off this mortal coil by turns - but within this account of bodily vanishings lurks a vast conundrum of non-inclusion, a puzzling confrontation orbiting around a pivotal lack so mammoth, so voluminous in its span as to thwart plausibility, whilst still so small as to prohibit our noticing it at all.

Still, this sacrificial act, this abdication, this hamstringing is an affliction which it inflicts by will, a pain which it truly wants, and no word said (nor any action) can or should bring a mitigatory balm to this masochistic, if not outright sadistic, mutilation. In a word - this book is an avowal (thank you) that no trick of lingual manipulation is out of bounds for our national patois, nor that of its Gallic originator. In this it triumphs grandly, though that victory occurs at a total cost of simplicity of communication, vigorously slamming shut its highly-wrought doors upon any unlucky digits of cursory curiosity too dozy to pull away. But what bounty awaits stoical inquiry - in particular a work of brilliant rhyming skill, amongst a (now painfully shorn) handful of gracious nods to prior wordsmiths of no small acclaim.

On an opposing, still thumb-sporting hand, it is to an additional cross (born out of admiration, I will admit, but anyway) that I must turn my angry focus upon.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 10 reviews
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
A fantastic book 7 Aug. 2006
By Nils Fierro - Published on
Format: Paperback
You may think that a book omitting a particular character (okay, I can't do this without the letter "e") may get monotonous. But the book held my interest with a good plot, characters, and development. It catches the reader off guard with twists and turns and resolves with a conclusion that leaves no loose ends and provides a very satisfied feeling in the reader.

A few caveats; take your time reading it, don't be afraid to read something again, and researching some of the influences on Perec's life that affected how the book was written open up a new dimension to A Void (I know this because I did a paper on the themes and influences present in the book).
28 of 35 people found the following review helpful
My opinion of A Void, a translation of La Disparition (originally in français) 12 Aug. 2009
By Joseph A. Calzaretta - Published on
Format: Paperback
A Void is a fifty-thousand-word lipogram (writing which unfailingly omits a particular orthographic symbol) posing as a work of fiction. I'm sorry, but I simply cannot put in a good word for this book. Just trying to slog through it was causing such an aching pain in my skull that I almost quit. How I wish I had! Arriving at its conclusion didn't accomplish anything significant for my mind or spirit.

It is just plain silly to churn out paragraph upon paragraph of a story bound by such an artificial and arbitrary linguistic constraint. Why would anybody do such a thing? To show off an ability with a dubious "skill" that confounds clarity of thinking and prohibits lucid points? Obviously by dropping this childish limitation you could actually say what you want, and in a lyrical or charming way to boot. This is not to imply that all constraint is a sign of immaturity. Rhyming and rhythm may constrain an author a bit, but a truly high-quality group of such stanzas contains a captivating kind of music. It is a constraint, all right, but it adds. This kind, though, just subtracts, corrupts, and distorts.

As it stands, this book's grammar sounds unnatural and awkward; its vocabulary shifts without warning from archaic and formal to "hip" and slangy; its plot (a minor thing, almost a postscript) absurdly twists and turns to satisfy our all-important typographical constraint. That's all okay, I'll grant, if this activity is just a hobby and its author aims only for gratification of his own abnormal soul. But inflicting this inanity of wordplay on a broad population is wholly unsatisfactory. Only a totally masochistic bookworm would gladly put up with it, gaily consuming a full publication with only this frivolous trick as its basis. Normal book-loving folks among us should not do so much as to pick up this monstrous parody of writing.

A word of caution to budding authors who may find this sort of pursuit alluring: know that this craft is not art. It is a gimmick and a stunt. Go and construct your ridiculous opus, if you must, but do not try to pass it off as worthy of anybody's admiration or conscious thought. Jot it down on a napkin or a bathroom roll; rid your mind of its sick fascination; and finally throw it in a trash can or flush it down a drain. If only our good wordsmith who brought us A Void had thought to do this, or stuck to a fitting occupation such as making daily crosswords or word-finds for tabloids.
38 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Insufficiently reviewed, insufficiently critiqued 15 Feb. 2008
By James Elkins - Published on
Format: Paperback
I don't think any of the thirteen-odd reviews on the page for the hardcover edition really do the work justice. (Incidentally: Amazon should do something about the way reviews have to attach themselves to hardcover or paperback: there isn't usually any difference between the two, and it divides the critical discussions.)

People are struck at the amazing idea of writing a book without the letter "e," and also at the accomplishment of the translator at finding reasonable equivalents for so many of Perec's solutions.

But that's just praising virtuosity: if the book is as important as some of his other books, there has to be another effect of his choice. Perec is, I think, one of the most interesting postwar writers. "Life: A User's Guide" is tremendous, and "W" is entirely different and equally astonishing. But "A Void" is experimental in a different sense.

Perec himself helpfully gives the reasons for his experiment in the penultimate section of the book. He says (1) the book might be a "stimulant... on fiction-writing today," (2) that it would be "a spur to [the] imagination," (3) that it might be a "wilfully critical" provocation "vis-a-vis fiction." For an ideal reader, then, this book is a model of the kind of radical strategy that has to be adopted to make the novel a viable form.

I have no criticism of that ambition. Raymond Roussel's "Locus Solus" is a deep well here -- it is alluded to throughout the book -- and I completely agree that much in Roussel remains unmined. The difficulty, for me, is in the exact ways that the strategy of avoiding the letter "e" plays out in individual passages. In order for the book to operate as Perec hoped, the avoidance of "e's" would have to present itself as a continuous negotiation, providing variable but continuous pressure on ordinary narration. The void would have an abstract effect, turning the reader's thoughts to questions of what comprises ordinary narration and what might be done to overturn it.

What actually happens is quite different. The overall narrative is very well arranged so that the "e" itself, its persistent and almost always unnoticed absence from the lives of the characters, is what produces their deaths. But at the level of sentences, phrases, and word choices, the void is often more annoying and repetitive than enabling. Here is an example:

"Miraculously, though, Albin got out of Tirana by night and, hiding out in a thick, dark, almost fairy-tale wood, would languish in it for all of six springs and six autumns, a half-moribund survivor..." (p. 159)

The phrase, "half-moribund survivor," is a substitute for "half-dead." The book is replete with examples of complex, Latinate words substituting for simpler, Anglo-Saxon words. The result is a quirky and often pleasing archaism and formality.

But it's different with "all of six spring and six autumns." The book is also replete with versions of that phrase -- "20 springs," "six springs," and so on. All those are to avoid the word "years." Now that's not a problem in French, where the word would be "ans," but it is typical of the book as a whole. It's a silly, uninteresting, repetition. My point here is that it's a different kind of effect than the first one.

It's different again with "fairy-story wood," which is a substitute for "fairy-tale wood." That is not archaic or expressive, but random. If it has an expressive value, it's just the very fleeting annoyance I feel at realizing what generated the expression.

These different kinds of problems create different expressive effects, and remind readers of different kinds of writing (Latinate, scholarly, gruff, inept, childish...). In combination -- relentless combination! -- they make this book into an experiment in hokey, inept writing.

You might think all that is intended, but I do not think so. In the penultimate section, Perec says his experiment took him down "many intriguing linguistic highways and byways," and that he honed his "writing skills" with "inspiration" and "not without occasional humor." My sense is that he experienced his experiment as a delightful diversion, requiring all sorts of clevernesses. My experience reading the book does not correspond to that. My interest in his virtuosity, and his translator's virtuosity, wore off in the first fifty pages after their infelicities and awkwardnesses began to outweigh the obstacles I could see they had overcome: and my patient wore out another hundred pages later, when I began to see that the author and translator did not experience the many kinds of infelicities as irregular annoyances rather than enabling reworkings of fiction.

Read "Life: A User's Guide" instead: it is a masterpiece -- to some degree precisely because it avoids the unevennesses of intention and expression, and retains all the strangeness, all the virtuosity, and all the astonishing innovation.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Challenging, hilarious, and a modern marvel 11 July 2011
By user - Published on
Format: Paperback
How do you write coherently about a book that was equal parts frustrating and marvelous? It's probably best to start with its author, Georges Perec, who started out as the bane of my existence but I'm happy to report is on my list of authors that I admire. Perec was a French writer and a member of Oulipo from 1969 to his death in 1982. Though I have yet to read his other works (novels, play, poetry, and opera librettos, even), it is easy to see why Perec is considered a "literary experimentalist."

A Void is a literary feat: it is, in short, a novel written without a single E in its 300 pages. While Life a Users Manual is considered his magnum opus, A Void stands as a triumph in taking a constraint, the lipogram, and making it work in long form fiction. And beyond that, Perec found that the constraint provided a means to break free of our ideas of what could be done with fiction.

"My ambition, as Author, my point, I would go so far as to say my fixation, my constant fixation, was primarily to concoct an artifact as original as it was illuminating, an artifact that would, or just possibly might, act as a stimulant on notions of construction, of narration, of plotting, of action, a stimulant, in a word, on fiction-writing today."

Anton Vowl is the subject of this novel; or, more accurately, his disappearance serves as a catalyst for this literary whodunit that leads his friends on a twisting and turning path, following half clues and false paths. In this essay on reading Perec, Warren Motte points to voids in Perec's own life--namely, his parents:

"On the other hand, 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, mère, parents, famille 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."

A Void is a marvel. An exercise in the absurd. A self-aware piece of fiction: "La Disparition? Or Adair's translation of it?" At times, it feels like Perec is winking, nudging, and blowing raspberries at the reader ("nothing, nothing at all, but irritation at an opportunity knocking so loudly and so vainly, nothing but frustration at a truth so dormant and frail that, on his approach, it sinks into thin air.") And let's not overlook his underscoring the letter E's absence throughout the novel: twenty five books on a shelf that once held twenty six (25 letters remain in the alphabet that's missing an E), Anton Vowl's absence (A. Vowl, get it?), and so on.

For me, the story and character development were secondary to the intricate, convoluted tangents that make this narrative unique. While some writers are satisfied by describing the landscape, Perec seems to delight in telling the reader each item or object's history, it's disappointments, absurdity, etc. At times, the narrative flagged for this reader but it was at those times that Perec was aware, pointing to the pointlessness of the many digressions from plot to subplot to who knows where.

How did he pull it off? And perhaps equally important, how did Adair manage to translate this beast of a book into English? Because he did.

A Void isn't for every reader. Though it is set in Paris, it is not the Paris for lovers. It's the 1960s and Paris is in shambles. Where total anarchy prevails. If you are up for a read that asks more of you than you're accustomed to, if you are up for a challenge-a rewarding one at that-then give this a go. But don't go throwing your book at me. I warned you, didn't I? Recommended.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Incredible achievement in writing! 8 April 2009
By C. Petruk - Published on
Format: Paperback
A 250 page lipogram - a book written without using words that contain a specific letter, in this case the letter 'e'. No "the" no "he" or "she", no words that end in "ed". Really incredible!

The story is pretty interesting too, and surprisingly fluid to read, given the constraints. The story does, however, contain many references to Paris in the late 60s, which makes the story a bit challenging if you don't know them.
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