Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Life, 2nd thoughts

On September 30th, I wrote a bit about a book I was getting ready to read, "Life: A User's Manual" by Georges Perec.  I'm well into the first part of the book, and this conjured up some other thoughts on it.

I had mentioned that the book was written in the 3rd person, told by some unnamed entity who knows everything about all the characters in the book.  I forgot to mention, or perhaps I forgot entirely, there is no dialog in the book.  There's mention of one person talking to another, but so far, and I believe for the entire book, there is never any dialog.

It is as if this narrator is describing a photograph.  Frequently there is no one in a room he describes.  If there are people, he describes them as in mid-action, not as going from point A to point B for example.  It's as if there characters are frozen in an instant, like in a candid photo, and the narrator describes the picture.

A lot of time is spent describing the things in whatever apartment the narrator is in at the moment.  Frequently these are mundane things described in detail.   The narrator also seems to have a very deep level of cultural literacy, and assumes the reader has the same.  Well this particular reader (me) has a fair amount of cultural literacy, but there are lots of references in this book I don't have a clue about.

The main thread, the main story is well underway, developing quite nicely, in fact.  I only know that because I've read the book back in 1989 or so.  If I hadn't I wouldn't even know what the main thread was at this point.  I'm sure, back in 1989, I wasn't even aware what the point of the book was at this point.  So I've lost that element of surprise - I won't have that OMG moment I had 20 years ago because I know what's coming, I know who the main character is & what's going on.   But I'm enjoying it just the same.

This is a beautifully written book.  I assume anyway, it was obviously translated from French into English, so  I guess I really wouldn't know.    It has complexities on several levels.  And besides complexities, it has a preamble, an index, a chronology, and an appendix where it references all the stories the narrator tells. 

I enjoy reading it, though I think I'll be at it awhile.  It is a book you have to want to read.  I don't expect I'll ever understand it completely.

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