on 2 July 2012
Beware: this is not a self help book or a satiric book about life and its unavoidable nuisances.
This is pure literature. The author describes and dissects life in a block of flats in Paris. The block was built in the late XIX century, and the neighbours have changed with time. That is normal. But the author makes an extraordinary exercise of research, showing how everyone of them is related to one another, how a life is knitted with others by unseen threads. This book is a praise of the art of making puzzles: in fact, it is the puzzle freak and millionaire, Batlebooth that sends the stone rolling when he decides to dedicate his life to the most useless of pursuits, solving puzzles in his residence.
The author jumps from one apartment to another, from one period of time to another before that one, or after. And then describes the room, the decoration, its meaning, its cultural connotations, what the inhabitants are doing, their feelings, their motivations, their past or their future. But then, what fascinates is the degree of detail, the intrincacy of the descriptions, the minute objects and facts that we are told: stairs, cellars, kitchens, drawing rooms, the porter's office, the underground, the basements, the roofs, the rich flats, the small and shabby apartments, love, life, envy, jalousy, madness, valour, gallantry, skills, art....
One wonders how long this research could take (it seems that this book took several years to be written, no wonder), how could such a clockwork of a "novel" could be devised. How can the individual dramas, the boring existences, the unseen sufferings and joys be so precisely and lovingly be told? Painters, aristocrats, children, artists, doctors, porters, antiquarians, public servants, editors, grocers, mechanics, handycapped, and many more surround the bored, fed up millonaire Bartlebooth, his useless richness, his tics and whims. Each is depicted in his home, in the stairs, working or resting, making love or eating, sleeping or reading. Everybody, every moment of the house is written down. The horse in chess just jumps and lands in a different appartment, maybe in a different period. You must be ready for that. Only the final pages will solve the whole puzzle.
So that's life: a net of relations, of collective interactions whith people we know and even with those we don't know.
For me, Perec is a master.