Life A User’s Manual by Georges Perec

Life A Users ManualPublisher and release date: Hachette Littératures (France) (1978)

Life A User’s Manual is currently available on the Penguin Classics range – and for good reason. As the title suggests the book takes a deep look into the lives of its many characters. The way in which it does this, along with how each story is described, has made Life A User’s Manual a critically lauded piece of work.

Once the reader becomes used to Perec’s sort of back-and-forth storytelling, it becomes a formula for incredible fiction. Many characters return throughout the book, but Perec manages to take the story into a different tangent at several opportunities before focusing on the characters in that new development. For instance: an in depth description of a room – there are several in the book which are exquisite and educational for any aspiring writer – leads into the previous occupants of that space and gives an account of some of the most interesting, bizarre and funniest moments of their lives. It may be a painting, relative or friend that acts as the pivot for the introduction of these ancillary stories. Some of which bare enough content to be an entire different piece of fiction by itself even though they’re part of the puzzle that is Life A User’s Manual.

On the downside the amount of different characters that appear can make it difficult to remember who’s who when a person pops up again. Also, a lot of the language is archaic and can come off as offensive or even racist, the latter is nothing new, but I always find it unnecessary when the tale is told in third person for the narrator to use an abundance of such language. It could very well be a good reflection of the time Perec was writing in (which was only the seventies). The story often stretches outside France and there are many references to foreign items, areas and places, which do make it even more enjoyable, but, sometimes, many of these are unknowable to anyone except for maybe Perec himself. On an upside, I admired his style of syntax as his sentences often goes on for half a page without a full stop. This can make reading a little strange, but it’s a fantastic example of how a writer can still be great, without sticking to common conventions of writing.

Life A User’s Manual is a wonderful piece of fiction that uses a puzzle as its base to provide a vast amount of intertwined stories. There are too many to list in this review, but the tale of Bartlebooth is exceptional, and is one of the best I’ve come across in writing. While some don’t have a perfect place in the tale they are all vital, entertaining parts that make this book a masterpiece deserving its classic ranking.

  • Reasons to read: if you want to read a novel that must have taken painstaking lengths of time along with a wealth of dedication, care and knowledge to create. It’s a pool of entertaining stories which are more than likely to be better than the last good thing you remember reading.
  • Reading level: language connoisseur necessary -_-
  • Length: 608 pages.
  • Where to get: physical and electronic retailers and any good library.
  • Favourite quote: “Despite appearances, puzzling is not a solitary game: every move the puzzler makes, the puzzlemaker has made before; every piece the puzzler picks up, and picks up again, and studies and strokes, every combination he tries, and tries a second time, every blunder and every insight, each hope and each discouragement have all been designed, calculated, and decided by the other.”

Have you read Life A User’s Manual? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments

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