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The inconsequentiality of life,
This review is from: Life: A User's Manual (Paperback)
This astonishing book depicts the lives and ephemera (possessions, obsessions, history, peccadilloes, life stories, psychologies, loves and despairs) of the inhabitants of a large apartment-block in Paris. Ranging over the whole of the 20th century and full of the most amazing detail, including the description of every room, its decoration, furniture and inhabitants, this novel is unlike anything I have read before. One is given such an astounding amount of detail that at times it is difficult to see the intention - unless it is to overwhelm the reader with the pure ephemera and inconsequentiality of life? It is an achievement, there is no doubt, but is it a novel?
But does it matter that it transgresses some of the rules? No, because it has strange and compelling compensations, in the form of the story of the 20th century in a particular place. There are tragedies, love affairs, murders, mysteries, eccentricities galore, and this collage effect is above all sensitive to the art and culture of Paris. Its multifarious characters and life stories are like a strange mosaic that offers unending novelty and drama - but without the overarching themes that a novel usually uses to give cohesion and meaning. Meaning, indeed, is problematic, as it is in life. Perhaps this is the key to this strange achievement? In any case it is a marvellous read, full of curiosity and adventure, but also strangely static. As we look onto our own history, we will no doubt see the same mixture of banality, movement, beauty and morbidity. This is a user's manual after all.