I had never heard of this book before it was mentioned on a list in the Guardian. It is a slender novel but having read it I'm surprised I've never heard of it. The chapters alternate. Half is the misremembered childhood of Perec- his stories and then the verification (or lack of) of other people involved in them and his returns to the scene of them. The other starts of as the story of the two Gaspar Winklers but morphs into the story of the island nation W.
The chapters about W start off describing a utopia and ends with a dystopia through the allegory of Olympic sports. The chapters on Perec's childhood often centre around photos, which are described but not included.
The book is incredibly touching and at the same time really draws you in. I found I flew through it in an afternoon. I am unsure why it isn't better known as a modern classic- I assume it must be in France. It deserves a wider English audience.
I can't praise this book highly enough. I'm a Perec fan, and this small book is, for me, his masterpiece. It's deceptively - even frustratingly - simple at first read, composed of a memoir and a sort of manual. Like much of Perec's work - primarily the exhaustively wonderful A Void - it's constructed around absence, although here the absence is not so much formal as fundamental. It's what connects the two halves of the book and holds the work together. With typical restraint, Perec avoids explicit emotion, but in this book, more than in any other of his, what is being held back is so vast and so, finally, unutterable that the strength of the work lies precisely in a sort of autistic discretion. Like Sebald's equally powerful The Emigrants, it bears out Wittgenstein's dictum: "whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent".
I feel no one will really beleive me when I say this is the worst book ever written, but it really is just that. And I use the term 'book', not 'story' because there is no story.
This book is two 'tales' if you will. One is the authors memories of his childhood and the other about a fictional island where competitive sport rules. The chapters about perec's life are absolutely atrocious to read. There is no purpose. No narrative. No crisis. Nothing. They consist of 'I have a memory of Christmas. I saw the Christmas decorations and my aunt bought me sweaters. I didn't like them'. That's it. I mean, and what Perec? Why are you telling us this? Another chapter was of his memory of his father and mother's occupations. He then went on to question these memories and validate some of them through official records of the time. It was pointless!!! It's basically a very dull, pointless diary. This is pretty much the same as reading an encyclopaedia. What's worse is that there is no dialogue either. It's just the author, stating fact after fact. That's it. Dry and dull facts. He was born, his father may or may not have been a jeweller. That's as exciting as it gets folks.
The story of the island of W which is dominated by sport is equally crappy. Chapters consist of 'the island has four villages, on in the north called Northcillahe, the east, called east village , the south called south village . . . . They consist of around 100 males in each and are divided into 4 teams, making 25 sportsmen who compete in 4 events, . . . ' etc. this literally just sounds like a 'how to' guide to set up your own Olympics. Nothing more. It's so boring. I don't know why he spent so much time on facts and figures for the damn fictional island. And the way it's ran, it makes no sense. The island does nothing but compete in sport, but women are bred and reared solely to be raped by athletes. The weird thing is that the story was completely dull and pointless and then suddenly there is rape. Why? And how would that work then? The people do nothing but play sports, but somehow they have food and get everything they need somehow? No economy whatsoever but still survive? And then randomly the author throws in rapes and then returns to dull rule and stat citing.
This book is just utterly pointless. It came recommended to me by someone who I trusted but now Ive lost faith in their judgement. If you want an idea of this book just read your government census results and the official rule book of the Olympics. That's all this book is.
In fact I'm so unhappy with this novel that i think I'll send it back to the distributor. And NOT ask for a refund. It's just that bad that I would rather return it in protest.