The booksellers at Shakespeare & Company in Paris recommends Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec and introduces me to this amazing author. Georges Perec died in 1982 at the age of 46, leaving behind a dozen books and a brilliant reputation. In the words of Italo Calvino, he was “one of the most singular literary personalities in the world, a writer who resembled absolutely no one else.”
Life: A User’s Manual is constructed in the manner of a vast jigsaw puzzle. In it, Perec takes a single apartment building in Paris and uses 99 short chapters (along with a preamble and an epilogue) to give a meticulous description of each and every room as well as the life stories of all the inhabitants, both past and present. What emerges is a series of self-contained but interconnecting stories. They are all briskly told, and they run the gamut from the bizarre to the realistic. There are tales of murder and revenge, tales of intellectual obsessions, humorous tales of social satire and (almost unexpectedly) a number of stories of great psychological penetration. For the most part, Perec’s microcosm is peopled with a motley assortment of oddballs, impassioned collectors, antiquarians, miniaturists and half-baked scholars.